Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, Home Fire is a book that keeps on burning long after being read.  Devoured in a weekend, I have not yet stopped thinking about it.

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Home Fire is loosely based on the Sophocles play Antigone where the protagonist has the unenviable task of deciding whether or not to allow her brother to lay unburied or to carry out the unlawful act of burying him herself.

Shamsie’s Home Fire depicts a very similar dilemma with a young woman’s choice between standing behind her sister and her country or defying them to be by her brother’s side.  It’s very difficult to delve any deeper into the story without giving it away and so I shall touch on some of the themes which really struck me.

  • Female characters

Each of Shamsie’s main female characters are fiercely independent.  A condition of their upbringing but their strength makes this story.  The representation of these muslim women as independent, free thinking women will, I am sure, shatter some disillusioned misconceptions of women of this culture.  The fact that Shamsie does this so subtly is to be commended.

For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition

  • Dilemmas

There is no denying the fact that this book’s most explicit theme is that of the attempt at resolving continuous dilemmas and conflict.  Conflict between siblings; conflict between lovers; conflict within a country and, possibly the most beautifully depicted conflict: that of a politician.

This politician, a British Muslim, who is striving for career success and a balanced view of his culture and religion in an increasingly ignorant world finds it near impossible to be able to tick the right boxes for the right group of people.

He was nearing a mosque and crossed the street to avoid it, then crossed back so as not to be seen as trying to avoid a mosque.

His somewhat amplified dilemma is what first, second, third etc generations of immigrant families face everyday.  There couldn’t be a more timely telling of how people of dual cultures face the constant scrutiny of nationals.

  • Grief

This book is fast paced and tense.  There is a lot that happens within it considering its circa 280 pages however, when the story does takes a breath that is when the talent of this novelist really shines.  For me, Shamsie’s reflections on the effects of grief was the most powerful:

grief was bad-tempered, grief was kind; grief saw nothing but itself, grief saw every speck of pain in the world; grief spread its wings large like an edge, grief huddled small like a porcupine; grief needed company, grief craved solitude, grief wanted to remember, wanted to forget; grief rages, grief whimpered…Grief was a shapeshifter.

Finishing with the most memorable line for me from the book:

Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them.

I highly recommend this fantastic book.  Is it my winner for the Women’s Prize?  It is for sure in my top three.

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