Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire

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.


Photo: librarything.com

Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing (2016)

Two half-sisters are born in Gold Coast (now known as Ghana) in the 1700s. The country is a British colony and the other sister, Effia, marries a British man, the governor of the Cape Coast Castle. The other sister, Esi, ends up in to the dungeon of the same castle to be taken away to America in a slave ship.

The second book in the spring term of the English-speaking Book Club was a very strong historical and fictional novel of Yaa Gyasi. It was very heavy stuff and had a lot of food for thought for our ”five o’clock tea  conversation”. It was very well written and I just couldn’t let it out of my hands.

The structure of the book is very simple. It follows two branches of a family tree through 300 years of African and African-American history. Every chapter is a story of a daughter or a son of the previous character. Other branch tells a story of a family in colonized West African country and the other is about people forced to be in slavery and their offspring in America. It’s like a collection of short stories connected to each other. In some stories the connection with the family is very strong and in some the characters don’t even know who their parents are and sadly the reader is the only one who knows the connection to the bloodline.

A man is a very cruel animal and it was not so easy to watch the photos from the dungeons in Cape Coast Castle and it’s ”door of no return”, one of the locations in the book.

Homegoing is a book about systematic racism and stealing human dignity. It’s about the time when human being was much more valuable merchandise than gold. Still it doesn’t feast with the nastiest details but leaves them haunting in reader´s mind. It’s full of misery but full of hope too. It’s a book about slavery but also about the world changing towards freedom and self-determination of every man and independence of a country. And it has some lovely magical realism in it too which makes it more enjoyable to read.

The strongest impact of this book is that it tells stories of individuals instead of stories about nations or big crowds. It’s like a history book but instead of telling about the years of the historical events or the names of the rulers, it gives names and faces to the individuals in the way that anyone can identify with their stories. It’s fiction but it feels very real. It’s an eye-opening approach to the history of African-American’s. It reveals why the prejudice and racism still exists and for example why American prisons are occupied with people with color.

In many of the short stories I wished to know more about the characters, although the fast cuts to the next generation were effective. Some characters were so strong that I could’ve just read the whole book about them.

Yaa Gyasi (born 1989) is a writer born in Ghana but has lived almost her whole life in USA. It’s hard to believe that Homegoing is her debut novel and we were wondering what she could write after this. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a bigger picture and other angle in our recent history, and want’s a book with the flavor of life.


photo: librarything.com