Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Image result for home fires kamila shamsie
It's been a while since I've posted a book review, but given the fact that I keep mentioning this book to friends, I thought maybe I should also mention it to my readers. I really enjoy fiction that makes me wonder which aspects of a story might be true-to-life and that makes me think more deeply about my own assumptions, and this is one of those kinds of books.

Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire (Riverhead Books (Penguin Random House) 2017, ISBN 9780735217683) tells the story of three Muslim siblings who struggle to come to terms with their father's abandonment of their family, and what it could be like to be the children of a suspected jihadist in a world doing battle with ISIS. Shamsie's telling of an updated version of the classical story of Antigone is evocative, and starkly but beautifully told through the story's five main characters, each with their own unique voice and view of the unfolding tragedy.

When her younger twin siblings come of age, Isma Pasha, the eldest of three, journeys to the US to complete a PhD in sociology, and finds companionship with a less traditional Muslim named Eamonn Lone, though she hesitates to tell him about her family's past. Still in London, younger sister Aneeka puzzles over the increasing silence of her twin brother, Parvaiz, who, for a time, enjoys the attentions of a father-like mentor. As Parvaiz's dream of understanding about his father turns into a nightmare, Eamonn returns to London and delivers a parcel to Isma's aunt. He meets Aneeka, and the two fall in love in spite of Eamonn's father's unsympathetic history with the Pasha family. Home Secretary Karamat Lone, who held the position when the Pasha family sought information about their missing father, is the man who has the most to say when it comes to the fate of both families. I won't say more than this, as I don't want to be a spoiler!

I suspect that, here in the West, we shake our heads at the barbarity of ISIS without really understanding how young people could be disenfranchised to the point that they would choose to join the Islamic Brotherhood's form of Jihad. Kamila Shamsie's believable story about a breakdown in communication between sisters and brother has me thinking deeply about the importance of honesty, openness and trust in our relationships. There are so many layers to the kinds of issues she touches on in this story, and she lays them open for us to see and acknowledge.

It's only too easy to tell ourselves that we are alone, that others would never understand where we are coming from, and that we can't trust anyone but ourselves. But the fact of the matter is that we are usually too small to see the big picture without being willing to be open, to admit our mistakes, and to ask for help before things spin out of control. We need to come out of ourselves to really see others clearly.

The five characters of Home Fire learn this lesson the hard way, perhaps so that we can learn from their mistakes. And books that remind us of challenging lessons are always worth reading. This one will stay with me for a long time. If you're looking for a thought-provoking read, check it out.