This year has been full of great reads, thanks in part to the fact that I am part of so many book clubs. I now have to add Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie to this list, which I read this month for the Capital District Book Club. The genre that we selected this book for was “Books best read blind” meaning that you don’t know anything about the book. But even if you were to read the synopsis on the back cover, it can’t prepare you for the story that unfolds within its pages.
Home Fire is said to be a reimagining of Sophocles’ “Antigone” but I didn’t know that going in. The book opens with Isma, a British Muslim, who is detained in the British airport as she goes to board a flight to the United States. Isma is eventually let go and arrives in the US to pursue her dreams, but worry nags at her as she left her two siblings behind in England. She is especially concerned because her brother Parvaiz has recently been recruited to join ISIS, following in the footsteps of their late jihadi father. His twin sister Aneeka is left alone back in England.
The story moves along with each chapter providing each character’s perspective of the events as they unfold. We see how the unraveling of the once close-knit Pasha family unravel based on the decisions that each of them make, from Isma’s decisions after finding out what her brother had done and her decision to leave England, to Aneeka’s decisions to try to help her brother when he wants to come home. We also have the decisions of Aneeka’s boyfriend Eamonn, who is the son of the British Home Secretary Karamat Lone. Even Karamat’s actions against British Muslims has an impact to what happens to the Pasha family.
Shamsie does a great job interlacing the back story of each of these characters into the plot so the reader can understand why they make the decisions they do. It results in a build up that ends in a cascading wave of events that leaves you completely sucker punched. I reached the last page and was ready to have a bittersweet ending. Rather it left me gasping and crying. It hits you in all the feels and leave you emotionally drained. I was kind of in a book hangover after reading this book.
Let’s just say I couldn’t wait to discuss this book with the rest of the group. And not surprising, almost everyone in the group loved it. There was some criticism over the change of pace to the last part of the book and one who thought it was unrealistic, but otherwise, everyone else felt that it was a powerful read that was well done. Despite that, we spent nearly two hours dissecting it. Discussion ranged from whether Aneeka and Eamonn’s relationship was true or based on manipulation; whether Isma was the one to really cause the fallout because of her actions following her brother’s recruitment; how ISIS recruits its members; the grieving process; the Muslim culture and so much more.
A woman in the group said it best when she said she learned more about this topic in a fictional read than she has by reading news articles. I totally agree with this statement and it is something I have felt throughout this year. I think that it says something about the writer when they are able to put the reader in the character’s shoes as if they are experiencing it first hand. Shamsie definitely does that and I can’t wait to read more works by her.