“Home Fire” by Kamila Shamsie tells the story of three siblings living under the shadow of their father, who died in American custody after leaving the family to become a jihadist. The story is modeled after the tale of Antigone, and shares a focus on the questions of family legacy and loyalty
“Home Fire” is a captivating tale of a family struggling under the weight of legacy while trying to maintain their loyalties to one another.
The book features changing perspectives, giving us a view from each of the main characters as the plot unfolds. Their views vary, giving us new ways to see the story. We see people from the others’ eyes as well as through their own. It brings a different level of understanding with some, or creates more uncertainty with others.
As the novel opens, it seems that Parvaiz will be the mystery, the one whose thoughts are unknown and actions incomprehensible. His perspective does come clearly though, and is both enlightening and at times disturbing. We see how heavily the family legacy weighs on him, and the way he is led by it.
Aneeka, though, becomes the true mystery. Even as we hear directly from her, we don’t get a chance to understand her and her intentions, leaving us only guessing at what is real or feigned. We see her first through the eyes of everyone else in her life -- sister, lover, confidante.
Isma is an interesting character to open the narrative. She has played the role of both sister and mother to the twins Aneeka and Parvaiz, and has at times a difficult relationship with them. Despite the love all three have for each other, Isma is often on the outside, separate from the close bond the twins share. She seems lonely within her own family, caught between the two generations of parents and children.
Kamila Shamsie shows that she is a master of creating a story that draws readers in and keeps them hooked until the final page. She starts with the novel’s opening line: “Isma was going to miss her flight. The ticket wouldn't be refunded because the airline took no responsibility for passengers who arrived at the airport three hours ahead of the departure time and were escorted to an interrogation room.”
Shamsie’s main characters are each given opportunities to share their perspectives of their lives and story. At first I was unsure about this format as I did not want to leave Isma to follow younger sister Aneeka, and later leave Aneeka to follow her twin brother Parvaiz. But it quickly became clear that the reader is better able to understand the complexities of the story by spending time with each character.
One of the things that most interests me about this novel is its physicality. Throughout the story Shamsie crafts scenes around physical feelings that the readers can understand and relate to: defining a clumsy hug as two bodies knocking into each other, describing an older relative placing a bandaid and a kiss on an injured elbow, and showing a character’s frustration through a bright red cherry pit that lands on a new white shirt.
Though the lives of the three siblings are in many ways different from mine, Shamsie shows that we still have similar experiences, like skinning an elbow while playing as a child.
This month we will be reading “If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha. The fiction book tells the story of four young women connected by the beauty standards and societal expectations. Questions to consider as you read:
How are these women individually impacted by the beauty standards of the society they live in?
What has your own experience with beauty standards been like?
What do you think about the novel’s weaving together of four lives and stories? Do you like this format?
How do the women come to impact each other? What are their relationships to each other?
Would you recommend this book? Why or why not?