Free Press Journal

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie: Review


Name of the book: Home Fire

Author: Kamila Shamsie

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 262

Price: Rs 599

Home Fire by Pakistani-British author Kamila Shamsie, long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2017, is a sensitive and relevant tale. A modern adaptation of the ancient Greek play Antigone, Shamsie’s book translates the struggle of an individual between duty and religion, emotions and faith, and it does so with a moving prose that does justice to each one of its characters.

Home Fire’s tale moves forward in five parts — the narratives of the key characters Isma, Eamonn, Parvaiz, Karamat and Aneeka. Shamsie’s well-crafted prose gives you a panoramic view of the characters — you see them from each significant character’s perspective and yet, their own narrative takes you intimately close to them. Each narrative gives you a real sense of the character — sometimes endearing them to you to the degree that you want to hold them tight and say, ‘Don’t go down that path!’. At the same time, another character’s narrative makes you furious at a character you fell in love with just a few chapters ago.

Isma and Aneeka are sisters- Isma the older one, forced to be a parent more than a sibling to the twins Aneeka and Parvaiz. She knows sacrifice, and she’s seen enough to want nothing but peace for whatever little’s left of her family. Aneeka is the polar opposite — she’s a rebel, unafraid to chase what she wants at any cost. Both the sisters are devoted to Islam in their own ways, while Isma is straightforward about her commitment to her religion; the seemingly rebellious Aneeka wears her religion with pride, tweaking it to suit her beliefs. While Isma coyly walks through immigration praying for no trouble, Aneeka leaves her lover alone in bed to read her morning namaaz. Parvaiz is silent, but he listens… And the sounds, words, ideas get imprinted deeply on his mind. He takes off to join a Jihadi training camp in Raqqa. Eamonn Lone finds himself in the middle of these siblings torn apart by their respective sense of duty.

This novel is more relevant today than ever, as it represents radically different mindsets of Muslims in the global context. Shamsie grew up in Karachi, spent her college years in the US and moved to the UK about 10 years ago. It could be safe to assume that she might have first-hand understanding of religion in the context of immigration and Islamophobia, in three diverse societies. It is hardly a surprise then that Shamsie uses simple, fluid language and sensitive, delicate approach to reveal different perspectives to the same situation. While Karamat Lone wants to distance himself from his religious heritage, his son Eamonn has very little tying him to the religion. Parvaiz uses his religion to find a connection to his dead father, whom he’s never met. Shamsie’s sensitive and delicate approach goes deep within the folds of human emotion to build up to the events that change the three siblings’ lives forever.

The novel has its flaws. The story moves through five characters’ perspectives, so the timelines could get confusing for the reader. Shamsie tries a clever approach of exploring the characters’ past as the present unravels. While it’s quite clever to do this, it gets a bit to tedious for the reader to keep track. That said, it works beautifully for Parvaiz’s narrative, where the awkward silence about his father is juxtaposed with a stranger revealing the heroic nature of his father’s jihadi life.

When reading an adaptation, one already knows the plot, and that makes the author’s job that much tougher, making the treatment of the plot crucial in order to keep a reader intrigued. With Home Fire, Shamsie comes through as an author with great command on plot, characters and most importantly emotions. This poignant adaptation is an important read in the current global political climate. Its story, characters linger on one’s mind even after the book is finished and back on the book shelf.

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