Home Fire has been praised and recognized by so many before me- including two of my favorite literary awards, the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2018 winner) and the Man Booker Prize (2017 longlist). A retelling of Antigone, Home Fire is Greek tragedy retold for the modern age. Given that my recollection of Antigone is extremely vague, Home Fire punched me in the gut repeatedly, playing with my heart until the very last page.
From the back cover:
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 prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When Parvaiz resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to- or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
“For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition.”
-Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire
I LOVE multi-perspective stories, and Home Fire is brilliantly-done in that regard. Through the course of the novel, we hear from five characters. First, Isma, a sister-slash-mother-figure to Aneeka and Parvaiz, on her way to America to resume her life in academia now that her siblings are fully grown; then, Eamonn, the home secretary’s son whom both Isma and Aneeka feel a magnetic pull toward; next, Parvaiz, Aneeka’s twin brother who wishes to learn more about their jihadist father and in the course of doing so, is entrapped by a nightmarish neighbor. Then, we hear from Aneeka herself as she grieves for her twin and does everything she can to be with him one last time; and finally, Eamonn’s father Karamat, the home secretary himself, who watches as his son sacrifices everything for love.
Rather than switching consistently back-and-forth between the five perspectives, Shamsie writes five distinct sections, starting strong with Isma and continuing the story through the alternate points-of-view. Like any multi-perspective story, I was drawn to some narrators more than others, but Shamsie does an incredible job of introducing each character while moving the story along at the same time.
“Everything else you can live around, but not death. Death you have to live through.”
-Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is an absolutely brilliant retelling of Greek tragedy for this modern age. Regardless of my poor memory of Antigone (which came flooding back to me as I flipped the final page), Home Fire shines on its own as an essential 21st century text.
Find this book on Goodreads.