Saturday, 9 June 2018


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a powerful and affecting novel about what it means to be Muslim in contemporary Britain. It’s a tale of loyalty, betrayal, politics, and the deeply personal. The book opens with Isma in airport security, travelling to America to study. The older sister of twins, Aneeka and Pasvaiz, Isma has had responsibility for their parenting and for the economic stability of the family unit since her mother and grandmother died within weeks of the other. Their father, a jihadist fighter, remembered only by Isma, is only a shadowy legacy - one that paints a picture of violent death at the hands of allied forces. Aneeka and Pasvaiz, now out from the protective umbrella of their sister, become increasingly independent. Aneeka, studying law and often out with friends, is beautiful and enigmatic, devout in her own way. Pasvaiz, with no scholarship to attend university, is at a loose end, working at the local greengrocer with dreams of being a revolutionary sound engineer. While Isma is busy with her studies, meeting a privileged man, Eamonn (son of a Muslim British politician) and Aneeka is living her life to the full, Pasvaiz becomes increasingly isolated and secretive. He meets Farooq, a recruiter for Isis, who tells him heroic tales about his father and points out the injustices in the system. Offered a job in Syria, he leaves under the pretence of visiting family in Pakistan. Pasvaiz is young, naive, and craving a father figure he has never had. Once in the Middle East, he realises his mistake. His passport is taken from him, his cell phone destroyed, and all contact with anyone outside the organisation is highly monitored or non-existent. Eamonn returns to the UK and meets Aneeka. A love affair develops between them, a relationship that Aneeka hopes will pave the way to the door of the Home Secretary - Eamonn’s father. Shamsie builds a perfect framework of family, faith and love, impinged on by politics and ambition. Home Fire is a modern rendition of the play, Antigone, the story of a young woman torn between what is expected and her love for her outcast brother. The story starts quietly with Isma’s viewpoint. Isma is sensible, clever and prepared to underplay her cultural difference for a safe and non-confrontational life, yet there is a barbed edge to her actions just under the surface. In Aneeka, this edge is front and centre and she will do anything for her twin, even deceive those she loves the most. As the story progresses, the tension mounts, and the attitudes of the family, the community and the politicians are exposed, accumulating in a terrifying breaking point. Shamsie won the Woman’s Prize for Fiction this week in the UK, with the judges pronouncing it ‘the story of our times’.Home Fire is a breathtaking work which hits hard and is tender at its heart.  

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