Postcolonial Women Writers 6.0: Home Fire

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BUY ON AMAZON
Hardcover – 276 pages
Published August 15th, 2017 by Riverhead Books

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Women’s Prize for Fiction (2018)
Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) Nominee for International Book (2018)
Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017) 
Costa Book Award Nominee for Novel (2017)
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2017)

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The suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences.

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. 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. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

GOODREADS

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Home Fire is a counter-narrative to Sophocles’s Antigone, but a reader does not need to know the story of Antigone in order to read and understand it.

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Similar to Antigone‘s five acts, Home Fire is contemporarily set in five different locations: London; Amherst, Massachusetts; Istanbul; Raqqa, Syria; and Karachi, Pakistan.

Home Fire is a definite page turner. The different points of view, with an omniscient narrator, support the plot and portray it exceptionally. With several characters’ points of view, stories can sometimes get confusing or jagged, but not with Home Fire.

At first, it seemed that Aneeka was only with Eammon to get back at her sister, Isma, for turning their brother, Paravez, Aneeka’s twin, into the police, but her purpose to help her brother, Paravez, becomes clear.

Eammon is the son of the Home Secretary, Karamat Lone—a very powerful man of Pakistani descent. Eammon is an important character because he does not understand the world the same way Aneeka or Isma do. Eamon has seemingly grown up in a bubble and has false imaginations of his father, Karamat.

Karamat’s character shows the different routes similar people can end up on. In this way, Karamat functions as a foil to Parvaez because he is also of Pakistani descent and comes from a working class background. Karamat, as a foil to Parvaez, represents the divergent paths available to people in life.

Parvaez is a very sympathetic character because of his vulnerability. Parvaez left Britain to join the Islamic State and understand his father more—a Jihadi who died on his way to Guantanamo. Parvaez was not afforded the opportunity to redeem himself, which speaks to larger problems in the world today.

While Parvaez makes many mistakes, his humanness cannot be undone. Parvaez, being a vulnerable and sympathetic character, complicates the idea of terrorism and the Islamic State. 

Each character has a distinct connection with Islam. This shows how, like any religion, there is a spectrum of devotion, which contrasts the problematic way Islam is viewed in the world today. With Home Fire, Shamsie is distancing the typical connection between the Isamic State and Muslims. This is shown specifically when Shamsie writes:

The 7/7 terrorists were never described by the media as ‘British terrorists.’ Even when the word ‘British’ was used, it was always ‘British of Pakistani descent’ or ‘British Muslim’ or, my favorite, ‘British passport holders,’ always something interposed between their Britishness and terrorism. —Shamsie

This explanation dives deeper into the problematic association today between Islam and terrorism.

The idea of feminism and the power of the veil is conveyed by Shamsie through Aneeka, a character who is Muslim, wears a veil, and believes in god, but who also dates, has sex, and studies the law. This seems like a ‘new feminism’ because the novel attempts to explain, if not liberate, women who do not have a binary devotion to their religion. Although Home Fire is fiction, it reflects reality in many ways. 

Eventually he swung himself out of bed and walked into the living room to find her praying, a towel as her prayer mat, the hijab nothing more than a scarf loosely covering her head without the elaborate pinning or the tightly fitted cap beneath… He should have left immediately, but he couldn’t help watching this woman, this stranger, prostrating herself to God in the room where she’d been down on her knees for a very different purpose just hours earlier. —Shamsie, 72

The veil is a manifestation of humanity; the veil is a continuum. What people take away from the veil says more about them than the person who is wearing the veil. Shamsie emphasizes the problematic male gaze upon the veil and wants readers to engage with their own identifications of the veil, rather than the veil itself. 

‘What were you praying for?’ He asked when she came back in and started to unbutton her long-sleeved shirt, starting at the base of her neck.

‘Prayer isn’t about transaction, Mr. Capitalist. It’s about starting the day right.’

—Shamsie, 73

Social media reinforces a singular narrative in Home Fire and can be likened to the Greek Chorus in Antigone. Because social media is impersonal, it does not support the characters that it should in Home Fire. In this sense, Shamsie may be commenting on how social media has been co-opted by the state as a function of neocolonial and neoimperial activities. Through this, Shamsie shows that the true oppressor is not the Muslim community or Muslim men, but the state. 

Aneeka’s section is uniquely poetic in its organization because her thoughts are jumbled with news reports and social media updates. Relaying information in this way makes the reader feel more like Aneeka and how she receives information sparingly. 

Despite the ending being in his perspective, Karamat Lone becomes powerless—and seemingly voiceless by the conclusion of Home Fire.

The ending shows how conflating different types of terrorist activity is problematic—Shamsie seems to argue that every terroristic event should be viewed distinctly from others. In this way, Shamsie shows how a post-9/11 or 7/7 world effects Muslim immigrants in Home Fire

I wanted Isma to come back and share her experience of events. However, Isma having a voice at all is a strong counter-narrative to Antigone because Antigone’s sister does not have a voice at all in Antigone

The ending of Home Fire relates to Antigone, and other Greek tragedies, because there is a diasporic return of Parvaez and Eamonn to their home country, Pakistan. However, in the end, the tragedy mixes with pain.  

This novel challenges the idea that readers need to be satisfied with an ending. By challenging the idea that a novel needs to give closure to it’s readers, Shamsie engages with a popular feature of a postcolonial novel—the ambiguous ending. 

Overall, I LOVED this book and learned a lot about perspective from it!

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW AND LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THOUGHT OF HOME FIRE!

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