A gripping short novel. The family of the first British Muslim Home Secretary becomes intertwined with the family of a deceased Pakistani jihadist.
1 January 2019
My wife was intrigued by a review of this book in the London Evening Standard on 31 August 2017. Accordingly, I bought it for her. Like many books we buy, it sat around for a long time, but she read it a few weeks ago and strongly recommended it to me.
With a large backlog of non-fiction that I feel I must read, I rarely indulge myself by reading fiction. However, some quiet time over Christmas in Manchester and my wife’s encouragement led me to start reading it.
Once started, it was completely gripping. As I also had other things to do, I still spread it over about 3 days, but would otherwise have devoted almost all my time to getting to the end.
There is a limited amount I can say about the book as it is a work of fiction and I do not wish to spoil it for readers. However, let me reproduce the blurb from the dust cover's flap:
“Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she resumes a dream long deferred – studying in America. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream – to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London world away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to – or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
A contemporary reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire is an urgent, fiercely compelling story of loyalty is torn apart when love and politics collide – confirming Kamila Shamsie as a master storyteller of our times.”
My hard-cover copy is 264 pages with a reasonably sized font and well-spaced lines. These made it very easy to read.
After reading the book, I have learned a little more about Kamila Shamsie from reading about her on Wikipedia and an interview in the Evening Standard. Like me, she was born in Pakistan. She is much younger than me, being born in 1973. Unlike me she spent the first 34 years of her life mostly living in Pakistan, only coming to live permanently in the UK in 2007.
Accordingly, she is much more deeply imbued in Pakistani culture which I know only by absorption from my parents and from the Pakistani community of Manchester in which I grew up.
Her chronology also means that she has only known the UK in the post 9/11 environment, where the level of concern about terrorism committed by Muslims ebbs and flows, but never goes away.
The book was written in 2015 and first published in 2017. The British Muslim politician of Pakistani origin who is Home Secretary in the book, Karamat Lone, is of course a fictional character. I do not know if Kamila Shamsie has said whether she modelled him on any particular real-life individual.
However, we inevitably read books in the light of current circumstances. Accordingly, from now on I will find it almost impossible to think of our current Home Secretary Sajid Javid without thinking of Karamat Lone!
The book held my attention from the very beginning, although it has a relatively quiet start gradually building up to the crescendo at the end. The most important test for any work of fiction is “Do you want to turn the next page?” It passes that test extremely well.
The characters in the novel are developed with a reasonable degree of detail so that one can understand, and indeed sympathise, with the way that each of them behaves.
Reading the book will not get you any closer to an understanding of the ideological motivation of organisations like Al Qaeda or ISIS. However, it should help you to understand the mindset of those who let themselves be radicalised.
I have no hesitation in recommending it.