Home Fire

Home Fire

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to...

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Title:Home Fire
Author:Kamila Shamsie
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Home Fire Reviews

  • Hugh

    When the Booker longlist was announced, this was one of the books that most interested me, because I really enjoyed Shamsie's previous two novels (

    and

    ). I was a little nervous when I read that this is a modern retelling of Antigone, because my knowledge of the classics is very limited, but it is a fine book and another one which would make a worthy winner.

    The book is in five sections each of which focuses on a different character. I found the first slow going -

    When the Booker longlist was announced, this was one of the books that most interested me, because I really enjoyed Shamsie's previous two novels (

    and

    ). I was a little nervous when I read that this is a modern retelling of Antigone, because my knowledge of the classics is very limited, but it is a fine book and another one which would make a worthy winner.

    The book is in five sections each of which focuses on a different character. I found the first slow going - we are introduced to Isma as she travels from Britain to Massachusetts to pursue her academic career. Isma is an orphan who has been looking after her younger twin siblings (Aneeka and Parvaiz), and her father was a jihadi fighter in Chechnya and Afghanistan who only returned occasionally. She meets another Briton from a Pakistani family, Eamonn, who is the son of the home secretary (Karamat) and is in America on holiday. This section is primarily a scene setter - the real action starts when Eamonn returns to London and meets Aneeka. They embark on a clandestine affair.

    In the third part we learn more about Parvaiz. He is a drifter more interested in sound recording than working who is left at a loose end when Isma leaves for America and Aneeka starts a law degree. He gets entangled with, and radicalised by Farooq, who turns out to be a recruiter for IS and who persuades him to head for Syria, with the promises that he will find out more about his father and his death while being transported to Guantanamo, and that he will lead a privileged life in the media arm of the organisation.

    Things heat up when Parvaiz decides he wants to return to Britain, and the remainder of the book plays out the tragedy that ensues.

    I won't comment in detail about how this relates to the Sophocles play or the Anouilh version of the story - I will leave that to more expert critics. What I will say is that as a modern parable it works surprisingly well and becomes a very compulsive story. The Prime Minister and Chancellor are obviously modelled on Cameron and Osborne, so it is clear that Shamsie did not foresee the upheavals of the Brexit vote, but all of the other political content is chillingly plausible, and Shamsie paints a very nuanced picture of the difficulties faced by the Muslim community in dealing with their own extremists on one side and intolerance and misunderstanding on the other.

    Perhaps slightly flawed in places, but the best parts are very good indeed.

  • Adina

    4.5* rounded up.

    Home Fire is the candidate I support to win the Booker Prize. Well, I only read 4 nominees until now so it is not a definite opinion. However, it is highly unlikely that I will make too much of an advancement in my reading of the longlist until the shortlist is published so it will probably remain on top for a while.

    If you read a few reviews you will realize that the novel is based on Antigone. Unfortunately, I cannot add anything on the subject as I have no knowledge of this c

    4.5* rounded up.

    Home Fire is the candidate I support to win the Booker Prize. Well, I only read 4 nominees until now so it is not a definite opinion. However, it is highly unlikely that I will make too much of an advancement in my reading of the longlist until the shortlist is published so it will probably remain on top for a while.

    If you read a few reviews you will realize that the novel is based on Antigone. Unfortunately, I cannot add anything on the subject as I have no knowledge of this classic story and I would feel like a fraud to comment on it after only reading the Wikipedia summary.

    The novel is divided in 5 sections, each focusing on the experience of one character. At its core, it is the story of a British family of Pakistani origin and their struggle to live in their adoptive country in the shadow of the terrorist threat, especially because of their troubled history.

    I did not ponder too much how it must be for a normal Muslim family abroad to live with all this suspicion from people and the government. This subject has an important role in the novel and it made understand how difficult it must be to make sure that you do everything right, that you do not provoke violence, always being afraid of being followed. It also discusses the difficulties a family faces when a member of the family proves to be jihadi. It also touches IS recruitment and other sensitive subjects that are very well done.

    I thought the beginning to be a bit shaky but please persevere. The writing gets much better after 30 pages or so. It becomes a powerful, emotional and important novel for our times.

    I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

    ****

    4.5* An excellent book overall although there were some shaky parts. Made me think about a subject I did not pay too much attention: how to live in as a Muslim Citizen of an European country with the potential terrorist stigma. Review to come next week most liekely.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is a book that kept morphing as I read it and discussed it, and it ended up in a place far removed from my expectations at the beginning. Nowhere in the publisher summary or promotional material does it mention that the author is also basing this novel on the myth of Antigone, but she has, and that proves important in understanding some

    This is a book that kept morphing as I read it and discussed it, and it ended up in a place far removed from my expectations at the beginning. Nowhere in the publisher summary or promotional material does it mention that the author is also basing this novel on the myth of Antigone, but she has, and that proves important in understanding some of her choices.

    The author is from Pakistan, and the characters have some loose ties to Pakistan and end up there during some of the events, but it is more important inside the novel that the three central characters (siblings) are all children of a jihadi who was killed during or because of his military action. The characters themselves aren't certain, just know that he's gone, so I won't give that detail away. It's important to also understand that as a jihadi, he is working toward the magical homeland idea, and to that end has voluntarily fought in Afghanistan, Syria, Chechnya, and beyond. And the people he was involved with have done the same. Between that fact and the fact that the siblings are split between the USA and the UK, and the placeness of the novel feels very unstable.

    More instability in the novel comes from the shifting viewpoints and genres. The novel starts with Isma, the oldest sister as she moves to Amherst for school, including a long drawn out inquisition at the airport that makes her miss her flight. She meets Eamonn, son of a powerful politician in the UK, but his family is also close to her family in country and religion of origin, even if they don't seem to claim it anymore. At this point the novel feels like it is headed one specific direction, but there is a major shift to a romance novel for a while, and then it turns into a jihadist recruitment novel, and then a story about the placelessness of people labeled terrorists. Too much time, perhaps, is spent on what to do with a dead body without a country (this is a place where the author is trying to hard, in my opinion, to shoehorn the novel into the myth, when it is not needed, she has enough of a story without that.)

    As you can tell from my attempt to summarize, there is a lot going on in this novel. But I also found myself thinking far more deeply about the context. How far reaching are the wounds of Partition, which is where this family first lost their footing? How has that impacted the longterm inclination towards jihad? How do the way their family is treated in the USA and the UK effect how one member can only find home and family with a group of soldiers who knew his father? And outside this story, how is our current political situation worsening these kinds of narratives, pushing people into outsider status and otherness, without home, without firm footing? I think that's the thread that is between the lines, and to me, the most powerful part. I was waffling between three and four stars but I think my own thinking as a result of the novel pushes it to four.

    I do think there are misses here, though. The mythological connection weakens the story, especially the ending. Without saying what the ending is, I think it's a cop out to have a single climactic moment rather than following characters as they deal with the real-world, complex complications of the decisions that people have made. That's a movie move, not a novel move. There are missed opportunities between characters, conversations and interactions I expected them to have but are instead skipped, glossed over, or deemed not important. Isma and Aneeka should have had a huge fight about one plot element, and I felt like the connection between Isma and Eamonn's father had a lot of potential and it just dissipates.

    I would like to read more by this author, although I personally don't feel this is strong enough to make the Booker shortlist. Too many dropped plot points, a lack of realism at crucial moments, and the unevenness in genre and story arcs. I did appreciate the deep thinking it inspired, and it ended up having enough in it to count as one of the reads for my Borders 2017 challenge.

  • Paul Fulcher

    Aneeka (Antigone) to Eamonn (Haemon)

    Isma (Ismene) to Aneeka (Antigone)

    Khamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a 21st Century rewrite of Sophocles’s Antigone. It perhaps isn’t the best book on the 2017 Man Booker longlist, if measured by pure literary merit, but it may very well be the most important and thought provoking.

    Studying Antigone in preparation for Home Fire I was struck, as I imagine Shamsie was, by the contemporary relevance of three key Greek concepts, left untranslated in the version I read.

    1) the ambiguous use of the word

    - which to Antigone denotes customs and values, but to King Creon the laws of the land (

    )

    2) Antigone's prioritisation of

    (obligations to friends, family:

    ) over obligations to the state, and Creon's explicit rejection of that stance, (

    ) or, as in Seamus Heaney's rewrite of the play, which forms the epigraph for Home Fire:

    3) and most strikingly in a 2016-7 context Antigone's lament that she is a "

    , not among the living nor among the dead" (

    ). In modern day parlance, she is essentially proclaiming herself a citizen of nowhere, to use the accusatory phrase used in 2016 by the newly appointed British Prime Minister towards those who would calls themselves citizens of the world.

    Shamsie relocates Antigone to Britain in the 2nd half of the 2010s, and her conflict is not just between family and state, but between one’s religious and cultural beliefs, particularly for British Muslims, and both family and state. And she also addresses the troubling question of why young people are, despite the well documented excesses of the regime, attracted to leave their country of residence and their families and journey to Islamic State,

    In her retelling Creon becomes Karamat Lone, newly appointed British Home Secretary (one of the four great offices of state) and with his sights on even higher office:

    In the real world. 2017 Britain is a country where, on the one hand, London has (since the first draft of Home Fire was written) elected an openly Muslim mayor despite a ‘dog whistle’ campaign by his opponent to try to link him to Islam extremism, but on the other hand, where someone running to be a new Member of Parliament in 2010 – and now a senior Cabinet minister - felt obliged to announce at the hustings:

    And also where, in 2014, the then Home Secretary – now in 2017 the Prime Minister of the ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ speech – introduced powers to strip dual citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism of their British nationality. In the novel, Kamarat Lone, goes further:

    Home Fire - as with Preti Taneja's recent wonderful retelling of King Lear,

    - is told in five sections, in the third person from the perspectives of the key characters:

    - Isma (Ismene), a young woman and LSE trained sociologist

    - Eamonn (Haemon), son of the Home Secretary

    - Parvaiz (Polyneices), Isma's 19 year-old younger brother

    - Aneeka (Antigone), Parvaiz's twin sister, studying law at LSE, and

    - Karamat (Creon), whose Irish wife Terri fills the role of the prophet Teiresias

    The novel opens with Isma at Heathrow undergoing an interview from British immigration authorities, although she is actually leaving the country to start a PhD in America. In the 21st Century security state any Muslim leaving the country, particularly with Isma's family background (see below) is potentially open to suspicion as to whether their ultimate route might be Islamic State: indeed, unknown to anyone but his very close family, Isma’s brother, Parvaiz, has done precisely that.

    The dangers of ‘Googling while Muslim’ feature frequently in the novel, fears which Shamsie admits dogged her when researching the novel.

    Most strikingly, from the same interview:

    In America, Isma suddenly encounters a handsome youth, in a rather Mills and Boonesque moment.

    She soon recognises him as Karamat Lone's son:

    There is history between the two families. Isme, Aneeka and Parvaiz's father Adil Pasha had been a jihadi himself: their last contact with him a phone call from Afghanistan in late 2001. In 2004 they found out, from a fellow prisoner, now released that their father had been captured in early 2002, imprisoned and tortured in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and then died on route to Guantanamo. A friend of the family contacted a cousin, now the local MP - one Karamat Lone, then at the start of his political career - for help in finding where his body might be, but he refused

    One issue Shamsie faced in re-writing Antigone was how to incorporate the incest/father murder of Oedipus, Polyneices and his sister's father: changing this so that father and son are both jihadis, was a very neat solution, and does away with the fourth sibling Eteocles (killed by Polyneices in the play) as Parvaiz's unpardonable sin, rendering him a non-person in Karamat's eyes, is joining Islamic State.

    The destiny of sons's to follow their father is a key theme of the novel, albeit one that I struggleda little with as so manifest in a 21st Century context. As Eamonn tries to explain to one of the sisters:

    And incomprehension cuts both ways: Eamonn tries, and fails, to understand how it might feel to be Parvaiz or his sisters:

    I won't spoil what happens in the rest of the novel. Shamsie is to be credited for managing to:

    - adhere faithfully to the original - even incorporating nods to signature elements such as the dust storm that appears at one crucial moment, yet

    - maintain narrative tension - it is typically only afterwards that one recognises how the action follows the play, and

    - update the play's themes for a 21st Century setting - for example the role of Coryphaeus and the chorus is taken by the press - and highly topical issues.

    The novel has some powerful things to say about dual nationality and identity - and the approach of allowing each character their perspective provides a relatively balanced view, albeit it is clear that Shamsie's sympathy's are not with Karamat Lone's approach to stripping those joining Islamic State of their citizenship and their right to return, even for burial when dead, to the UK.

    She also, through Parvaiz, provides insight into what draws young people to Islamic State, drawing on the interviews in Gillian Slovo's verbatim play

    . She describes a recruitment video for Islamic State - note the dissonant images of violence interspersed with the idyllic scenes:

    or as Parvaiz puts it rather more simply when he arrives in Raqqa:

    And the book also doesn't spare those who make life more difficult for their fellows by their own actions. As a Pakistani relative of Aneeka tells her when she arrives in the country as the novel reaches its dramatic climax:

    I said at the review's start that this wasn't perhaps the best book on the Booker shortlist measured by literary merit alone. As per the example quote above, the Isme section has tinges of a Mills and Boon romance and that focusing on Parvaiz elements of a cheap Clive Cussler thriller (per Gumble’s Yard's excellent review

    ).

    However the writing becomes more powerful in the latter two sections, as it move on to both the highly personal and yet public anguish of Aneeka, interspersed with excerpts from tabloid newspapers (who rename Aneeka 'Knickers' and Parvaiz 'Pervy' as they seize with glee on the sex scandals in the story) and then the political machinations of the Home Secretary. And it struck me that the style choices in the first sections may have been that: choices, with Shamsie using the character's own worldviews to colour her third-person narration.

    Overall - a novel I would be happy to see win the Booker, albeit there are many other strong books on the exceptional 2017 list: Autumn, Reservoir 13 (my personal favourite), Solar Bones, Exit West and Lincoln in the Bardo would form the rest of my personal shortlist.

  • Diane S ☔

    There are so many timely subjects right now, world concerns and threats, and authors have responded in kind. This novel features two Muslim families in Britain, two families that have very different opinions on family and how to show or display their Muslim beliefs. It moves the themes in Sophocles, Antigone to present times. I remember very little about Antigone, refreshed my memory on Wiki, but I cannot really knowledgeably comment on the adequecy of the comparison.

    The novel starts out slowly

    There are so many timely subjects right now, world concerns and threats, and authors have responded in kind. This novel features two Muslim families in Britain, two families that have very different opinions on family and how to show or display their Muslim beliefs. It moves the themes in Sophocles, Antigone to present times. I remember very little about Antigone, refreshed my memory on Wiki, but I cannot really knowledgeably comment on the adequecy of the comparison.

    The novel starts out slowly paced, rather inoculously, as a young Muslim women, who has spent many years raising her two twin siblings. Now that they are old enough, Isma decides it is time to complete her interrupted education. The family!y of three has long been under the surveillance of the British Security service as their father was a known jihadist, who died on the way to Guantanamo.

    We learn about the methods used to recruit young people, usually 18 or 19, to the Islamic terrorist cause. The novel is narrated in alternating chapters by the five main characters. Each succeeding chapter is more intense, and by the time we hear from Aneeka, this story had radically changed, become super charged, very intense. The novel displays a confidence not only in prose but in how the story is related, which I found extremely effective.Complex issues. Love of family, youthful mistakes, how much can be forgiven. Government stances versus family, fear versus love, and the difficulties of Muslims, how they must act to fit in with society.

    Long listed for the Booker, I find tis a very worthy addition. Unforgettable, some of the visuals displaying a sister's love I don't think I will forget.

    ARC from edelweiss.

  • Dianne

    This is a powerful and gut-wrenching book loosely based on Greek mythology's story of Antigone, a woman defying a king to secure her brother an honorable burial. I knew this going in, so I did some research on Antigone so I could appreciate the parallels as they unfolded.

    "Home Fire" is told through 5 viewpoints: sisters Isma and Aneeka, their brother Parvaiz (Aneeka's twin), British Home Secretary Karamat Lone and his son Eamonn. Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz are Muslims living in London and Amherst,

    This is a powerful and gut-wrenching book loosely based on Greek mythology's story of Antigone, a woman defying a king to secure her brother an honorable burial. I knew this going in, so I did some research on Antigone so I could appreciate the parallels as they unfolded.

    "Home Fire" is told through 5 viewpoints: sisters Isma and Aneeka, their brother Parvaiz (Aneeka's twin), British Home Secretary Karamat Lone and his son Eamonn. Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz are Muslims living in London and Amherst, the children of Adil Pasha. Adil abandoned his family to join the "fight against oppression" as a terrorist, and after imprisonment in Bagram, died on a plane for transport to Guantanamo. Being the children of a known terrorist creates difficulties for Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz that play out in various ways throughout the narratives.

    This is a classic Greek tragedy in a modern "of the moment" setting, both heartbreaking and eye-opening. I deeply appreciate Shamsie's ability to create empathy for each character and their situations. This was long-listed for the Man Booker in 2017 and was the favorite of many of my Goodreads friends, and for good reason.

    I highly recommend this gem. Also, here's a shameless plug for another Antigone-based book that I loved, "The Watch" by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Not as masterful perhaps as Shamsie's, but one that deeply affected me and I still think about often.

  • Larry H

    Ever since their mother and grandmother died within the period of a year, Isma has cared for her younger twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their well-being has always been her first concern, even if it meant sacrificing her own dreams and ambitions. But now that the twins have turned 18, Isma is finally putting herself first, accepting an invitation from a mentor to travel to America and co-author a paper with her.

    That doesn't mean Isma won't worry about her siblings—Aneeka, smart, beautiful, a

    Ever since their mother and grandmother died within the period of a year, Isma has cared for her younger twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their well-being has always been her first concern, even if it meant sacrificing her own dreams and ambitions. But now that the twins have turned 18, Isma is finally putting herself first, accepting an invitation from a mentor to travel to America and co-author a paper with her.

    That doesn't mean Isma won't worry about her siblings—Aneeka, smart, beautiful, and headstrong, is pursuing studies in law, while Parvaiz has left their London home to try and understand the legacy of their father, who was once a jihadist. Isma does what she believes is right, even as it causes a rift in her family, but she is bound and determined that her brother will not follow in her father's footsteps.

    "For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition."

    When Eamonn, the son of a prominent British politician who has struggled with his own Muslim background in furthering his ambitions, enters the sisters' lives, he, too, causes a rift that he doesn't quite realize at first. Who is he to them? Is he a romantic possibility? A chance to enact revenge? The last hope for a wayward brother? The linchpin of a political crisis? Suddenly many lives hang in the balance, as true intentions are sought to be understood, and emotions are analyzed.

    What is stronger, blood or love? Can we ever overcome the obligations of family in order to move on with our lives, and if we can, should we? In

    , Kamila Shamsie attempts to answer those questions, as two families deal with the questions of love and loyalty, and how slippery the slope is when we start choosing enemies based on cultural generalizations.

    This is a powerful, timely book, and Shamsie does a good job navigating difficult political territory. For the most part, these are interesting characters, and I really became immersed in their stories. I felt, however, the book lost its way in telling Parvaiz's story, for while it was important to the plot, it just wasn't as interesting, and a lot was left unsaid. I also felt that Isma, who plays such a key role at the start of the book, is given short shrift, yet she is fascinating, evidenced by an all-too-short encounter with the politician which seemed like it could have developed into more.

    Shamsie is a talented writer, and this book is definitely a thought-provoking one about the ties of family and the immigrant experience. While it didn't resonate for me as much as, say,

    , it's still a powerful read.

    See all of my reviews at

    .

  • Hannah Greendale

    to watch a video review of this book on my channel,

    .

  • Maxwell

    I don't give 1-star reviews very often because I feel like I don't read a lot of books I would label as 'bad.' And this book, even, isn't 'bad' in my eyes. But when I think about things I enjoyed regarding this novel, there's pretty much nothing redeemable for me. The characters were flat, the plot was paper thin (even though I know it's a modern retelling of

    , I don't feel like that knowledge did anything to elevate the story), and the writing was nothing special and verged on poor at t

    I don't give 1-star reviews very often because I feel like I don't read a lot of books I would label as 'bad.' And this book, even, isn't 'bad' in my eyes. But when I think about things I enjoyed regarding this novel, there's pretty much nothing redeemable for me. The characters were flat, the plot was paper thin (even though I know it's a modern retelling of

    , I don't feel like that knowledge did anything to elevate the story), and the writing was nothing special and verged on poor at times. I know others who loved this book but, boy, I did not. In fact for the first time in a long time I couldn't wait to finish it. And that never really is a fun reading experience. If it had been any longer I would've DNF'd it. But I was more determined to push through since I am attempting to read all of this year's Man Booker longlist. Wouldn't necessarily recommend this but read some other reviews and see what people had to say that liked it, because it might be just the right book for you. It wasn't for me.

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