Home Fire by Kamilla Shamsie

cover of home fire by kamilla shamsie and quote: For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition

This is one of those books which takes you by surprise and one you will never forget. It was a solid 3/5 stars for me until the very end which was so unexpected that I had to give it a rating of 4/5. I can see why this is the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction I don’t think I will ever forget that ending and I’m happy I finally picked it up for the Asian Readathon I participated in in May on BookTube.

Home Fire is the winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Among the books on the shortlist I read and reviewed Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy and The Mermaid and Mrs. Hanckock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hanckock is historical fiction with a hint of magic but the other ones all deal with hard hitting current subjects like growing up black and poor in the America south (Sing, Unburied, Sing), domestic abuse in modern India (When I Hit You) and growing up as a British Pakistani in the shadow of a terrorist father (Home Fire). None of the last three are easy reads but they are all worth the read, especially if you’re into literary fiction.

Living Under the Shadow of a Terrorist Father

In Home Fire we follow three British-Pakistani siblings who live in the shadow of their terrorist father who died many years ago on the way to Guantanamo. The novel is divided in five sections, each from the perspective of a different character. Through each perspective we come closer to experience how it is to grow up as a Muslim immigrant in the UK.

Isma was like the glue that kept this small family together but she could not keep sacrificing her future and dreams so she accepts the invitation of her university professor and friend to go to study in the States. The twins, Anneka and Parvaiz, just turned 18 and must remain and start their own lives. Isma’s decision to leave breaks up this family because it means selling their family home, thereby severing their last ties to the past and their recently deceased mother and grandmother.

Isma is finally free to do her own thing but she cannot stop worrying about Aneeka who is in London studying law or her brother who has disappeared and has been radicalized by a new friend and recruited into IS.

Right from the beginning you see how this family is treated because of their jihadist father. When Isma is at the airport to board her flight to the US she is interrogated for hours. You realize that their whole lives they have been watched and monitored.

You will see how young and impressionable Parvaiz is befriended and ‘brainwashed’ into joining IS in order to find out more about his father. The methods these recruiter use on 17 18 year old’s can be brutal. They manipulate and twist the truth. How can we blame these teenagers for what they’ve done? They are still kids who don’t know better and who don’t understand the outcome their actions might have. Can they be forgiven?

Inspired by the Myth of Antigone

Home Fire is based on the myth of Antigone who wants to give a respectful burial to her dead brother despite it being prohibited by the king. Antigone seeks the help of her sister Ismene, who refuses to help, but cannot stop Antigone from doing so. But you don’t need to know the myth to understand Home Fire.

Home Fire touches on many sensitive and current subjects like being a Muslim immigrant in the UK, the recruitment and radicalization of teenagers into terrorist groups, and the difficulties of living when a family member is a jihadist. It is a must read! The book is really well written and the ending will make you cry. I never saw it coming!

As one who likes reading literary fiction I aim to read more from the list of winners of the Women’s Prize for Fiction list. Hope to discover more gems and favorite authors.

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