A review of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
There are so many things that this novel depicts and so much that it does not. It is a modern-day “Antigone” but this book does not even contain a fraction of the depth of characters and the grief that exists in the original Greek tragedy.
The book has a very strong opening and it gripped me in with its theme of Islamophobia and civil disobedience. But soon as one starts reading the book, the characters fall flat, the plot becomes all quite predictable and it loses its charm. If you have never read Antigone, then this book may surprise you or keep you engaged, but if you, like many other avid readers have had the chance to thoroughly read the Greek tragedy, you will be quite disappointed with this liberal and soulless modernization of it.
The depiction of Islamophobia and the problems faced by the Muslim community in Britain is quite aptly described. So is the behaviour of certain individuals who much prefer to wear their religion on their sleeve only when required and shed it off as and when suitable. But the actual depiction of the life of a Muslim or what the people who follow the Islamic faith are like is quite wrongly shown.
Since the author is a British Pakistani novelist, one would think that she’d have a deeper insight. But instead of delving deep into the psyche of Parvaiz who became a terrorist, or the thought-process of the terrorists and how linking it with religion is their only way of explaining nonsensical behaviour, the author misrepresents the actuality and enforces the preconceived notions.
Another aspect of this book I found appalling was that none of the characters that were shown as ardent Muslims were shown in a good light. Either you were a liberal Muslim who didn’t care much about the religion and then you were the good guy, or let’s say an acceptable guy like Eamonn or you were a terrorist to be loathed like Parvaiz or Abu Pasha. Or you were stuck somewhere in between like Isma and Aneeka where the former found reasons to make people okay with her religious identity through convincing them to see beyond it and by agreeing to everyone else’s views while the latter used her religion as a means of everyday rebellion. I did not find even one character who simply existed with religion as a personal choice without being driven or defined completely by their faith. If I were to simplify it, I would say that the book was written keeping in mind a British audience in whose minds Islamophobia needed to be reinstated but subtly, so as to appease the Muslims as well. Like Eamonn’s father, it showcased how the religion may be good but its implications in the people’s lives make it bad.
Now keeping the religious angle aside, I did like the writing of this book and there were some sentences where I was just in awe of the prose.
“Grief was a shape-shifter, and invisible too; grief could be captured as a reflection in a twin’s eye. Grief heard its death sentence the morning you both woke up and one was singing and the other caught the song.”
Overall, reading this book was a good experience but there are many things that I didn’t ideologically agree with.