Kamila Shamsie´s seventh novel, Home Fire, published in 2017, is a story of two families, the Pashas and the Lones. The families have their origins in Pakistan, but have moved to London, England. From the neighborhoods of Preston Road, Wembley starts their lives and disperse to different directions from the Parliament of Britain to America, Syria, Turkey and Pakistan. The families do not seem to have much in common except their origins, but inevitably their lives become more and more intertwined.
The focus on the story lies on the sisters of the Pashas, who have been on their own since a sudden death of their mother and a disappearance of father, who evidently has been radicalized and joined the terrorist organization ISIS. The eldest daughter Isma is a mother figure for the younger twins Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their lives are about to turn upside down when Isma follows her dreams to America and the twins, although young adults already, are left alone. Especially Parvaiz faces new challenges as a strange man enters his world, and his current views on life are questioned.
Shamsie, herself as of Pakistan origin and gaining a British citizenship in 2013, writes an extraordinary fascinating and gripping story. She does not fear of digging into challenging themes such as double citizenship, religion, (radicalization/secularization), moral and ethical choices between political and personal lives.
The book is divided into 5 parts, where the story is told from different points of view, of different persons. We found this a successful way of the storyline, and stories were balanced – with the exception of the story by Aneeka, whose story was told in a different format, in many parts like the news from the yellow press. It was an interesting choice by the author, as this way the story criticizes the power of media and shows how the reality/real facts can be twisted into something else and to serve other purposes. Kamila Shamsie has told in an interview that she drew inspiration for her writing from the ancient playwright Sophocles and his drama Antigone. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, was prohibited by law from burying her brother. The Greek tragedy is inevitably in this modern version not any lighter in its’ nature.
Kamila Shamsie’s book was the first book to start the season of our book club, where we have chosen to read books that have won literal prizes or been nominated for a one. Home Fire won the Women’s prize of fiction for 2018 (A Prize that has been rewarded since 1996 for a book that has been published in Britain the previous year). The name of the book takes a reference from the concept of first World War, when there was a command to ”keep the home fires burning” while Europe was at the stage of a turmoil. Home was considered a stable place where routines would stay and which would provide the necessities for daily life. In Shamsie’s piece of work, the notion of ”home” as a stable place is being challenged, thoroughly. She also manages to surprise the reader in a way that one is shaken to the core. Highly recommended book for anyone who wants to enjoy a high-quality piece of world literature.