Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and Costa Novel Award last year, Kamila Shamsie’s seventh novel is one you will likely have heard of. And after it was announced as winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction recently, I knew it was a book I had to push up the TBR!
Home Fire is a powerful novel, and one that is very timely given recent world events, with the threat of terrorist activity being ever present. This is an issue which is explored through this story of three British Muslim citizens growing up in London. For as long as they remember, Isma, along with twins Aneeka and Parvaiz have only had each other to rely upon. But their small unit is driven apart when Parvaiz is drawn away from them, as stronger forces from further afield encourage the teenager to try and fulfil the legacy of his jihadist father, whom he never knew. Parvaiz’s actions result in conflicted emotions and tense relationships between his sisters back home, and there are divided loyalties as the sisters struggle with their identity, and with trying to support their family whilst also siding with the place they call home.
Given the subject matter, this isn’t always an easy read, and there are moments that made for uncomfortable reading, and others that simply make the reader think, and consider the complexity of these scenarios we see around the world and on our doorsteps. This includes the acts committed by jihadists, and how they set about recruiting individuals to join their cause. Parvaiz finds himself on the other side of the world, trying to be like his father was before him, finding himself in some horrifying scenarios. It also addresses the stigma faced by law-abiding Muslim citizens, as they find themselves questioned, and treated differently within society. The novel begins with Isma at an airport. As she sets off on her travels, heading to America to study, she finds herself instead in an interrogation room, at risk of missing her flight. This story is told in five parts, each focusing on a different character. As well as Isma we spend time finding out about the twins, Aneeka and Parvaiz, and the close bond they share. We also meet Karamat Lone, a prominent politician who has struggled with his own Muslim background, and his son Eamonn. As the story develops we see how the lives of these two families become intertwined, as we see the strain on the relationships between the siblings and between a father and a son. This was a heartbreaking and suspenseful read, which built up to a conclusion I am not likely to forget in a hurry.
I enjoyed Home Fire, and found it to be a well written and thought provoking novel which explores the strength of family bonds and love, and explores themes of loyalty, and of identity.