Book reviews

The last page of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie hit me like a punch in the stomach. I actually had a physical reaction to the story’s ending that left me doubled over.

The story is told in five sections and follows three siblings, Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz.

It begins with Isma missing a plane because of a lengthy and intensive interrogation by airport authorities who knew that her deceased father had been a Jihadi terrorist. After her mother’s death Isma had given up her regular life to bring up her younger brother and sister in London but once they were grown, was eager to recommence her studies in the USA.

Once in the USA Isma met and befriended Eamonn, despite recognising him as the son of the present British Home Secretary. Much to the disgust of the Muslim community in London, Eamonn’s father had renounced his religion for political success.

Isma had been on the verge of falling in love with Eamonn when they had a falling out over his father’s politics and although their friendship survived, Isma was disappointed to learn that Eamonn did not return her feelings.

In a gesture of kindness, Eamonn took Isma’s gift of M&Ms for her aunt back to the UK with him when he returned but instead of mailing them, Eamonn delivered the gift himself, unexpectedly meeting Isma’s beautiful younger sister Aneeka. They instantly fell in love, although their romance was not all it seemed.

Unbeknownst to Eamonn, Aneeka’s twin brother Parvaiz had been recruited by ISIS and was in Syria. The story showed Parvaiz being groomed and although I cannot condone his actions, this went a long way towards showing me how vulnerable people can be preyed upon and manipulated to become part of something terrible. Parvaiz soon realised he had made a terrible mistake and wanted to return home to the UK, Eamonn’s father had taken a very public and committed stance to deny British assistance to Parvaiz and other British Nationals who had become involved with ISIS, even after their deaths.

The book’s blurb advises that Home Fires is a retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone, however I am not familiar with that story and can only base this review on my own reactions to the contemporary story. Home Fires raised some difficult questions about what it is to be Muslim in a western society and highlighted the issue of all Muslims having been overshadowed in the public’s opinions by the actions of terrorists. The story lagged a little through the middle but the ending was extraordinarily powerful. I intend to look out for Kamila Shamsie’s previous novels and for whatever she writes in future.

Comments on: "Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie" (15)

  1. Malvina Y said:

    I agree regarding the ending. I was also not very familiar with ‘Antigone’. I was riveted… The book still resonates.

  2. I’m expecting to keep thinking about the book’s various messages and the ending for some time, too.

  3. This sounds very powerful! I don’t know about Antigone either but I guess the same human stories are always emerging in new ways.

  4. Your comment reminded me of the theory that there are only seven stories which are told and retold.

  5. Intriguing – I hadn’t really fancied this one but you’re making me reconsider. It’s a tricky question, what to do about the Brits who went abroad to fight for ISIS. I must say I don’t know the right answer…

  6. I don’t think there is a right answer for this issue. In this story, the character was selected and groomed, lied to and then learned the hard way that the reality was terribly different to what he’d been led to believe. However, he made the choices which led him to join ISIS. It was a clever plot device to have the politician making this decision a Muslim who had renounced his religion.

  7. Yes, that rings a bell. The skill of the writer is in finding new perspectives and situations on the basic stories.

  8. gosh this sounds good, going straight on my list

  9. We’ve actually got a case going on that’s pretty much the same as that, only it’s a girl – a woman, now. She left England as a teenager, went to Syria, married an ISIS man she didn’t know and has had three children, all of whom have died. Now she wants to come back and the govt doesn’t want to let her – she has dual citizenship with Bangladesh and they’re saying she can go there. I really haven’t been able to make up my mind whether she should be allowed back or not – if it was just her, I’d say yes, but I’m worried about the message that would send to other teenagers. Glad it’s not me who has to decide!

  10. I’m still thinking about the ending. Hope you get feel similarly if you do read it 🙂

  11. That is a terribly sad story. I expect it is even more complicated than what you’ve said as she was probably coerced into marrying by her family.
    I’d probably say yes too, but I understand why the government have to say no.

  12. For once it wasn’t her family – they were shocked and shattered when she ran away (or so they claim – who knows the truth?). She was just fifteen at the time, I think, and went out there with two schoolfriends, one now dead, I think. It was Isis who were “allocating” foreign girls as brides for men who’d joined them. I think the third girl is still with her “husband”. I suspect she’s mentally ill, but she seems to have fully bought into the regime and done some pretty bad stuff. It’s difficult…

  13. I shouldn’t make assumptions.
    What a tragic, complicated story. It seems as if her attempt to return to the UK is still in doubt.
    As you say, she must either be mentally ill or have been heavily groomed by Isis, her friends too. Fifteen-year olds are just babies, they often look like an adult but can be dangerously incapable of making good decisions.

  14. I think what appalled me most at the time was that the three girls were able to take a flight out of Britain, unaccompanied by an adult, heading to a country at war. Surely that shouldn’t be possible…

  15. So many fails in this case. Three sets of parents not realising what was going on, none of the girl’s school friends telling someone in authority, the airline, and probably more.

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