Kamila Shamsie’s seventh and most recent novel, Home Fire, is nothing short of a literary masterpiece. A contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ celebrated Antigone, Home Fire is a remarkable rendition of conflicting loyalties explored against a backdrop of violence, terror and politics.
Shamsie confers the role of the eponymous Antigone upon Aneeka Pasha – a vivacious, willful British-Pakistani nineteen-year old who shares an inseparable bond with her twin, Parvaiz. Abandoned at a very young age by a radicalized father and orphaned by the death of their mother, the twins have been raised by their elder sister, Isma, who is now a PhD scholar in Massachusetts. The family’s association with Eamonn Lone, the son of Britain’s newly elected Home Secretary of Pakistani descent, brings the story closer to the Greek myth it is based on, drawing fascinating parallels between the ancient Sophoclean characters and their adapted, modern-day counterparts.
Not that the Pashas have ever had a simple, stable life- the siblings have grown up learning to say they never knew their father- but while Aneeka has internalized this reality, Parvaiz gives in to the lures of Islamist propaganda in trying to acquaint himself with his deceased father. When he absconds from home to join the ISIS, his sisters are faced with the excruciating dilemma of choosing between the voice of reason and the ties of love.
This premise plays out in a volatile turn of events that drag you to the crossroads of citizenship and home, state and family, duty and loyalty, begging you to ask yourself how far you would go for the people you love. Despite the plot’s inherent sense of pathos, the author does not resort to any superfluous drama. Her narration is understated and wonderfully honest. There are parts of the story that may seem a tad unconvincing or even abrupt (and which cannot be discussed in detail without giving out spoilers.. so we wont!), but on the whole, Shamsie’s refined writing takes centre stage, relegating these peccadilloes to the periphery.
The book powerfully underlines what it means to live as a Muslim in the world we inhabit today, to have your allegiance questioned on the basis of your religious faith, to be demanded validation for the only identity you’ve ever called your own and to be rejected by the only place you think of as home. Irrespective of whether you like Fiction or not, whether you’re familiar with the original epic or not, if you enjoy reading, Home Fire is a must-read.
– Mitali Bapat
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