‘What would you stop at to help the people you love most? Well, you obviously don’t love anyone very much if your love is contingent on them always staying the same.’
For as long as they can remember, siblings Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz have had nothing but each other. But darker, stronger forces will divide Parvaiz from his sisters and drive him to the other side of the world, as he sets out to fulfil the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.
Every so often you come across a book premise that simultaneously makes you think ‘I wish I’d thought of that’, and ‘I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that project’. This is certainly the case with ‘Home Fire’. Kamila Shamsie’s sixth novel is a reworking of the myth of Antigone, set against the backdrop of radical Islam, ambitious politicians, and a very real battle for hearts and minds.
Aneeka and Parvaiz are twins, closer than brother and sister. They have been raised by their austere sister Isma since their mother’s passing and their jihadist father’s death. It is a bad time to be associated with jihadists in Britain, and surely a situation that Eamonn Lone, son of the home secretary, would never contemplate involving his father in.
Although a subject that most people rightly have their minds made up on, Shamsie isn’t shy of exploring the eddies and currents that motivate her characters. From the radicalised Parvaiz to a Home Secretary wary of the connotations of Islamic doctrine in dog-eat-dog Westminster, we explore the conflicts within all five protagonists and the path that leads them to forsake what was once important to them. It is a series of narratives that the Times described as ‘[making] you think. Uncomfortably.’, and one can see why. Not one of our protagonists began their journey wishing to cause pain to another, and it is their respective falls which form the shape of the novel.
Where the story excels is in the exploration between the cracks of society in which extremists flourish. Perhaps the most sinister character in the story is that of Farooq, who preys upon the insecurities of Parvaiz, abandoned by his father and emasculated by Isma. To Parvaiz, life in Raqqa appears fantastically seductive. Respect, comradeship, shared purpose, all of these are available if he gives Farooq his British passport and follows him onto the plane. Inevitably, what was sold to him as a land of freedom and opportunity fails to live up to his expectations, and the horror of what he sees prompts a desperate dash to the British embassy in Istanbul.
The only small criticism I can muster is that, in a 260-page novel, switching between five different perspectives and several flashbacks can jolt the reader out of the flow of the book. The quality of the writing, however, is such that this is not an issue. Backstories are examined in timely fashion and reveals arrive at brilliantly planned moments. All of this leads to a shattering conclusion, worthy of a Greek tragedy, and seen through the eyes of the Home Secretary, Karamat Lone. It is a true set piece finish, and the perfect end to a great read.
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