Thursday, January 18, 2018

Home Fire: Kamila Shamsie: review

Home Fire: Kamila Shamsie: review

[Published in India Today mag, Aug 19, 2017:]

The personal is political. Nowhere does one find a greater example of this phrase than in Kamila Shamsie's latest novel, Home Fire, long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Woven around two Muslim families in the UK, juxtaposed time and again, the tale speaks of love, longing, loyalty, rebellion and defiance, justice and injustice, and the price one eventually has to pay.

Isma Pasha is finally 'free' when the book opens. She no longer needs to play mother to her siblings -- nineteen year old twins Aneeka and Parvaiz, as she had since their mother's death. After struggling with the visa office and quietly swallowing her humiliation she lands in the US to pursue her PhD in Sociology, while the twins stay back in London. Yet she cannot really get away.

By happenstance Isma runs into Eamonn Lone, an old acquaintance and now the son of the Home Secretary, Karamat Lone - a British Muslim. Eamonn is a handsome young man well aware of his position of privilege and also bound by it. Smitten, Isma reveals her background to him, the fact that her father - Adil Pasha - was a jihadist.

A photograph Of Aneeka's at Isma's makes Eamonn trace her down to London. Eamonn and Aneeka are caught up in a whirlwind romance until Eamonn discovers her secret mission, which he perceives as treachery - at least for a while. Meanwhile, lured into following his father's footsteps by a 'friend', Parvaiz travels to Syria, only to find himself trapped in a situation far worse than anything he imagined.

Shamsie's character portraits are realistic: the quicksilver Aneeka as a foil to the somber Isma; the young and defiant Eamonn as a foil to his conformist father, Karamat; the twins as a composite whole with no space to accommodate their elder sibling. The only time the author seems to falter a little is while depicting Aneeka's mercurial nature and whimsical actions, which sometimes come across as contrived.

Shamsie's novel, which moves at the pace of a thriller, is more gripping than any literary novel this reviewer can recall, except perhaps Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. Every page is fraught with tension and conflict - both social and psychological, and the pitch perfect account of Parvaiz's life, especially in Syria, reflects the author's exhaustive research and familiarity with the subject.

Kamila Shamsie

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