Home Fire is a thrilling yet heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to choose between love and loyalty, with devastating consequences. It is a haunting novel, full of spontaneous moments and a few surprising turns, that manages to be gripping & suspenseful despite its uneven momentum. It won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2018, shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Award in 2017 and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. I enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting. It's an easy enough read to follow along but is also captivating in ways that you keep turning the page till the end.
The history behind the three protagonists of the story stems from the shameful legacy of their dead jihadist father which follows them into their adult life. The three siblings have grown up in Wembley, London all their lives where Isma the eldest was more or less forced to take charge of her younger siblings after their mother’s death, seven years ago. As the story begins, each of them is shown to be embarking on a life apart from each other. Isma is about to leave for America to complete her PhD studies and the younger two, Aneeka to study and Parvais to work.
There’s a constant shifting of points of view and focus in the storyline. The author, Kamila Shamsie, does a brilliant job with the opening sentence, “Isma was going to miss her flight.” It draws the reader in immediately and you’re wanting to find out why. It’s almost cinematic in effect as it goes on to describe where she is being held up and why. It’ll anger the reader nonetheless reading the blatant racial profiling that the characters are subjected to and how they have to restrain themselves, especially Isma, from responding and reacting to the condescending & patronising tone of her interviewers.
After that prologue at the airport, the story picks up again with Isma waking up in her grad student life in snowy Amherst, Massachusetts. She’s found a café that has become her safe haven for writing and this is where she happens to chance upon a familiar face, Eamonn, half-Pakistani, half-Irish American son of Karamat Lone, a former family friend, now despised. Shamsie does a brilliant job in describing the small moments between Eammon and Isma and it gives Isma a different dimension to her character but it also highlights the privilege that Eamonn has, being from a mixed background and the affluent lifestyle he is accustomed to.
There has been a comparison to the play Antigone and one can see that Shamsie has indeed been inspired by the storyline from it however she writes it in such a clever way that it does not force this context.
The role that the twins play in the story is one that intertwines with Isma’s and Eammon’s. The way Shamsie writes them into it makes us realise us that when deep religious and political conflicts get personal - beliefs, choices & agendas inevitably collide. There is an underlying current of devastation throughout the book that somehow exceeds grief. I'd definitely recommend it as a book to read for 2018 if you haven't already.
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