Home Fire (2017) by Kamila Shamsie is a retelling of Antigone. The references to the Greek tragedy are thinly veiled – Haemon = Eamonn, Antigone = Aneeka etc. The tale has been refashioned to revolve around a Pakistani-British (2nd generation immigrants) family. The two twins and elder sister are separated when we get to know them – the eldest studying for her PhD in the US, the female twin and protagonist studying law and the male twin in Syria having joined ISIS. The story starts off with the all-too-real scene of a brown girl being harassed for hours by airport security. Reeks with potential, right? Unfortunately, this book was one of the biggest let-downs for me.
“‘Do you consider yourself British?’ the man said.
‘I am British.’
‘But do you consider yourself British’
‘I’ve lived here all my life’. She meant there was no other country of which she could feel herself a part, but the words came out sounding evasive”.
Let’s start with the good. The topic was interesting, and it was a fast and short read. The plot moved along quickly and the themes were interesting to me. The above quote is an important moment in the book to me, but I think what makes it powerful is my own knowledge rather than her writing. I read this book directly after reading WINLTTWPAR so I’ve had meaningful insight on 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation immigrants feeling displaced/Other in what they consider to be their homelands in order to contextualise this feeling. What happens when people tell you to go home and you ARE home? I don’t know if Shamsie herself does a good job of bringing the point home (so to speak).
“‘Cancer or Islam – which is the greater affliction?’
There were still moments when a statement like that could catch a person off-guard…
‘I meant, it must be difficult to be Muslim in the world these days’.
‘I’d find it more difficult not to be Muslim'”
However, she’s a bit too on-the-nose with her writing. I don’t know how/why this book won so many nominations and awards. It’s probably the whole white guilt fawning over a story that actually humanises Muslims what a shocker. Oh, ‘terrorists are people too’, ‘Muslims are the targets of racism, how awful’, ‘this novel is so important’. Sure, the topic might be worthwhile but the execution (pun intended?) was not up to par. The author basically wanted brownie points or sympathy points or whatever points and it worked. The novel was mediocre/normal until around page 150, the last 100 pages were more powerful but super Bollywood.
That’s probably because there are actual links to the novel, as I found out from GoodReads:
“The song is translated into English but I figure out it was “Chaiyya Chaiyya” just from the lyrics. At the end of the novel, both Aneeka and Eamonn die in embrace in a bomb blast from a belt. “Dil Se”, the movie “Chaiyya Chaiyya” is from, has the exact same ending. Am I just overthinking it or is there some symbolism?”
No wonder the description of the love between brother and sister bordered on the incestuous. Plus, the female twin decided to replace her missing brother with a lover? What is that about? Why reinstate the traditions you had with someone platonic with someone you’re sleeping with. TBH that’s creepy. Coffins made of ice, rotting corpses and having naked sex with the hijab on as some sort of weird fantasy? Not great components of a novel in my eyes.
“Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them”
I generally like the Bollywood genre, but this is an example where the unbelieveble really is not appealing. The characters were flat and the plot was paper thin (even though I know it’s a modern retelling of Antigone, so she sort of had her plot pre-ordained for her). I just didn’t find any of it very satisfying. My eyes did not prick me when characters died, my heart did not squeeze when bad things happened. The end left me frustrated.
“A man needed fire in his veins to burn through the world”
Parts of her writing were almost beautiful. Which killed me. Like the above quote could’ve been so powerful with a few tweaks. In a way that’s worse than absolute crap writing because you just want that little bit more for it to be great. Other parts were just confusing and full of run-on sentences and cheesy hyperbole.
“For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition”
There’s a scene where a man topples over a potted cactus out of anger – she personified it as murder. This man then pricks his finger and his girlfriend sucks it ‘drawing his blood deep into her’. Suddenly the book is vampire erotica? Then I found out that this is her 6th novel! Sixth! I had assumed this was a debut piece of work -where are her editors?
Ok, I’m done hating. It wasn’t thattttt bad. I had fun reading it, I just think it’s not worth one iota of the hype. At least it didn’t drag on in any of the places and I was never bored while reading it, but all my other reads this month were much better so I had so much to compare it to.