Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie


Report by Pat Crook, who presented the book
Kamila Shamsie was born and brought up in Karachi, studied creative writing in Massachusetts and became a British citizen in 2007. She lives mainly in London but has strong links with Pakistan. She’s a dual national, bi-cultural, Muslim woman and a writer. In Home Fire, her seventh novel, she uses Sophocles’ play, Antigone, as a framework for a 21st century tale about “lives touched by immigration, Jihad and Family Love”(New York Times). The novel is presented in five sections, each ostensibly dealing with the five main characters but also weaving backwards and forwards in time and place as the two families - Isma Pasha and her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz, on the one hand, and Karamat Lone and his son, Eamonn, on the other - interact with each other. The Antigone theme of the girl who defies the authority of the state to bury her brother only becomes fully clear in the final chapter.
There was plenty of discussion about the various themes the book deals with such as identity, family, radicalism and the pursuit of power. We also talked about how we reacted to the different protagonists. There was a general feeling that the most interesting of the five characters is the older sister, Isma, virtually absent from the dramatic climax. We felt that her character had more depth than, for example, the ‘heroine’ Aneeka, and gave us more insights into the ideas being developed. Similarly, several people would have liked to know more about Karamat’s Irish-American wife, Terry. Was the lack of development Shamsie’s choice or dictated by adherence to the Antigone plot?
Nobody could actually say they ‘enjoyed’ the book and some found it downright depressing, especially the account of the progressive radicalisation of Parvaiz and his subsequent disillusionment when his dream becomes a nightmare. However, it was generally seen as a thought-provoking book and worth reading. It has gained widespread acclaim internationally, including in Pakistan and India. The Australian writer, Peter Carey, declared it should be ‘Recommended reading for prime ministers and presidents everywhere’. Our group did not comment on that idea but it’s a thought to close on.