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Previous Reads: Fiction > Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Our July read is this year's winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.

Home Fire
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?

Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie is the author of five novels, including Burnt Shadows which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now Women's Prize for Fiction), and has been translated into over 20 languages. She has also written a work of non-fiction, Offence: The Muslim Case. A trustee of Free Word and English Pen, she grew up in Karachi and now lives in London


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
I won't have time to re-read it, but this is one of my favorite books I read last year. Really excellent.


message 3: by PS (new) - rated it 4 stars

PS Like Carol I don’t have time to reread it but I read it earlier this year and remember it well. Look forward to the discussion


message 4: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I'm just under half way in and really enjoying it so far.

To avoid spoilers I'll look up discussion questions once I've finished. I know it's a retelling of Antigone, but it's been so long since I read Sophocles that I don't remember the spoilers any more and am enjoying not knowing.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments I read this last year. I did enjoy it, but I don't think it was the best retelling of Antigone I've read. I look forward to the discussion.


Cendaquenta I read this back in January and really enjoyed it. Just commenting so that I can follow the discussion, interested to see everyone else's thoughts on it.


Laurie | 11 comments I will probably start this tomorrow, and it looks like I might be the only one reading right now.


message 8: by Claire (new)

Claire Meadows-Haworth | 2 comments Just to let people know you can get a free PDF copy of the Angela Davis book at radfem.org.


June | 18 comments I’m another who read this earlier. Those who haven’t are in for a treat — really wonderful.


message 10: by PS (new) - rated it 4 stars

PS I felt really uncomfortable with the sex scene featuring Aneeka with her hijab. I sincerely hope it was an attempt on Shamsie‘s part to poke fun at Orientalist depictions of veiled Eastern women as exotic sexual beings. Unfortunately, it seems more likely than not that Shamsie wasn’t being ironic. Any thoughts on this one?


message 11: by Louise, Group Founder (last edited Jul 06, 2018 06:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Good question!
I was also slightly uncomfortable with that scene.

I like to think that Aneeka, who is a bit of a master manipulator, was deliberately playing into that pre-existing fetishisation, knowing that it would have an effect on her intended audience, who is so obviously uncomfortable with veiled woman at all (and who at that point I don't believe she respects very much). I do think Shamsie as well as Aneeka was slightly mocking the male character's thoughts on what women should wear here.

Whether that makes it a more palatable scene I'm not sure. But I think the fact that we have other hijab wearing characters that act very differently helps and make it seem more a reflection on Aneeka'scharacter than a on a whole group she just happens to be part of. If she was the only hijabi in the book I'd be much more uncomfortable with it.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments Sofia wrote: "I felt really uncomfortable with the sex scene featuring Aneeka with her hijab. I sincerely hope it was an attempt on Shamsie‘s part to poke fun at Orientalist depictions of veiled Eastern women as..."

Sofia, I don't know how far along you are in the novel, so I don't want to give away too much. But, personally, I didn't like Aneeka very much. I think she exploited relationships for personal gain. I agree with Louise's assessment @11 that Aneeka was a master manipulator.
I had some issues with the novel, primarily with the character portrayals.


Laurie | 11 comments I finished this today and I think it is a worthy winner of the Women's Prize. It isn't a perfect novel, and I agree that a few of the characters are possibly more stereotypical or less complex than I would like. Aneeka is manipulative, but she has an agenda for her manipulations. I think her emotions about Eamonn are real later in the book. In the hijab sex scene, I felt like she was seducing him in a way that he would realize she isn't like any other woman he's ever met.

I also thought Parvaiz was less nuanced than he should be. He was entirely unquestioning of Farooq and his stories. It was too incredible to me that Parvaiz thought he could just leave Syria and be welcomed back in Britain if he chose. He should have known that his father's legacy to him was automatic suspicion from the government and that ISIS does not let their recruits leave except on missions for the group. He checked out the things Farooq told him about what his father experienced, but nothing about the situation in Syria. Or nothing from sources other than Farooq's sources. He was kind of one dimensionally naive.

What I loved about this novel is that I entered the world of people who have to worry all the time if the government is viewing them suspiciously through no fault of their own. The Pasha's were on the government's radar because of their father. Aneeka and Parvaiz have never seen their father and they are still suspect. The first chapter was very powerful to me to see the way Isma was treated by her own country as she tried to fly to the US. As a white American, I would not be subjected to this kind of treatment if I flew out of the US. It is eye opening that she had to answer the kinds of questions she did. Isma's loyalty to her country is not a given as a white British citizen's would be.

Overall I found the story very timely and ultimately the events are horrifying and will be memorable to me.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
Great points. I found the beginning to be slow going but once Aneeka became the focus, Home Fire was compelling. I recall staying up until 3 a.m. to finish it on an evening I couldn’t afford to do so. Manipulative or not, Aneeka rang true for me as a character. Her behavior was authentic and consistent with her values and priorities. The ending was intensely mesmerizing.

Note that I haven’t read Antigone since ninth grade, so (although I recall liking it immensely) I was entirely unconcerned with the retelling aspect of Home Fire, which I only became aware of via reviews, all of which touted that feature.


Laurie | 11 comments I have never read Antigone, and the retelling was something I was aware of but made no difference. I didn't read a synopsis of the play until I was done so that it wouldn't affect my reading of this story.


message 16: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It is an excellent read.


message 17: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Carol wrote: "Great points. I found the beginning to be slow going but once Aneeka became the focus, Home Fire was compelling. I recall staying up until 3 a.m. to finish it on an evening I couldn’t afford to do ..."

Interesting. I've got that noted down as one of my discussion points:

How do you think starting the story with Isma's perspective set the the tone for the rest of the novel? Do you think you have had more/less sympathy with Aneeka if it had been her perspective you were introduced to first?


message 18: by Carol (last edited Jul 16, 2018 06:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
I'll answer somewhat indirectly. I had not read Shamsie before Home Fire, so had no expectations or preconceptions. Starting Home Fire with a focus on Isma, though, meant that the novel was somewhat flat and for some time there I was concerned that it was going to be a romance novel, or the novel of the girl who never gets the partner she wants. Neither appealed to me, in terms of plot.

It lacked energy and I considered abandoning the book. However, Shamsie's writing style was sufficiently appealing that I stuck with it and then was mesmerized by the Parvaiz storyline - like a trainwreck one can't stop. That moment when (view spoiler)suddenly the book as as intense as it can be and Shamsie maintains that intensity as it careens toward its inevitable end. At the moment I turned that page, Shamsie's approach to telling that part of her story reminded me of Gone Girl in that I was reading along pleasantly and an abrupt event occurred that changes everything. It's not, as in Gone Girl, that I learned anything that changed my view of the characters, but that I had been reading one sort of book and suddenly I was reading another sort of book and it was a grand switch. I'm not suggesting that the event I've hidden using spoiler tags was a surprise or shock, but the book takes off from that moment with an intensity and focus that wasn't there earlier.

Aneeka brings that intensity. Whether or not one likes or has sympathy for her, she passionately and entirely commits herself to her goal. She is a charismatic character. She knows whom she is and what she believes and values. Take it or leave it.

I'm not certain that it matters to me which sister is introduced first, but the novel, as a whole, might have been even stronger with a different initial 25%. Some authors are good at beginnings, some at endings, some in the middle. Perhaps Shamsie is a strong closer and less adept at taking the reader from page 1 to page 50. Those who have read others of her novels are in a better position to judge.


Laurie | 11 comments I agree that a different beginning might be better. But the part at the airport was great so I wouldn't want that left out. I actually didn't mind Isma's trip to Boston and meeting Eamonn. I could see that this romance would not happen, so I only wondered how the relationship would matter later. But when Aneeka and Eamonn became a couple, what a bore. That was my temptation to abandon. Clearly I am glad I didn't, but the weakness of the beginning could cause some readers to ditch the book and that would be a shame.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments I saw the novel as an exploration of the influence of family and upbringing in determining the choices we make, especially in the case of Muslim immigrants post 9/11.

From my review:

This is a powerful book about the obligations of family, the fractured experience of Muslim immigrants living in the West after 9/11, and the politics that embroil and ultimately destroy two families. The prose was unremarkable, and the characters’ motivations could have been explored in greater depth. Plot-driven and slow to start, the novel gradually picks up pace and increases in intensity until the climactic, explosive ending.

Shamsie gives contemporary relevance to the age-old clash between familial love and loyalty versus adherence to civic law. Her exploration raises profound questions about the choices young immigrants make and the forces that drive them toward those choices.


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
Understood. Perhaps -- with the understanding that each sibling, in addition to being a fully realized character acting authentically, also represents in a broad sense three possible reactions to the post-9/11 environment in the West -- Shamsie revealed by her choices that she found Aneeka and her struggle to be the most interesting of her characters. As if Aneeka gets all the good lines, if this were a stage play. Parvaiz is killed off. Isma's choices make her, to Shamsie, the boring/safe sister, as it were. Since Shamsie must nonetheless introduce Isma and develop her, in service to the larger story, she starts with Isma, all but entirely jettisons her for the second 2/3 of the book, and settles in to focus the book on Aneeka.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
@tamara - is there another of Shamsie's books you enjoyed, or enjoyed more?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments Carol wrote: "Understood. Perhaps -- with the understanding that each sibling, in addition to being a fully realized character acting authentically, also represents in a broad sense three possible reactions to t..."

I agree with part of what you said.

I agree with you that Shamsie presents three possible reactions to the post 9/11 environment in the West. But I'm not sure her characters are "fully realized" and/or "authentic." I felt they were closer to being mouthpieces for different perspectives rather than fully realized characters.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments Carol wrote: "@tamara - is there another of Shamsie's books you enjoyed, or enjoyed more?"

Yes. I enjoyed A God in Every Stone a lot more. I thought it was a much better book.


Laurie | 11 comments I have A God on Every Stone on my bookshelf, so I look forward someday to seeing if I like it better.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Carol wrote: "Understood. Perhaps -- with the understanding that each sibling, in addition to being a fully realized character acting authentically, also represents in a broad sense three possible ..."

I get that we will agree to disagree on this one :)
It was one of my top ten books for 2017, but what resonates with different readers varies so.

Thanks for recommending A God in Every Stone. I wasn’t familiar with and my library doesn’t own it, so it would have otherwise flown under my radar. Many thanks.


Sophie | 184 comments Tamara wrote: "I saw the novel as an exploration of the influence of family and upbringing in determining the choices we make, especially in the case of Muslim immigrants post 9/11.

Tamara, your summary is spot on for me. I found myself less sympathetic to the characters than I'd hoped. Most of my sympathies were for Parvaiz. I saw him as a lost young man.


I read A God in Every Stone right after this book and enjoyed it much more.



Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments Sophie wrote: "Tamara, your summary is spot on for me. I found myself less sympathetic to the characters than I'd hoped. Most of my sympathies were for Parvaiz. I saw him as a lost young man..."

Like you, my sympathies were with Parvaiz. I felt he was a lost young man searching for a meaningful place and identity. His circumstances made him vulnerable and easily susceptible to manipulation. He gets in way over his head and doesn't realize he needs to extricate himself from the situation until it is far too late. Pretty sad.


message 29: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It is an excellent read.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Sophie wrote: "Tamara, your summary is spot on for me. I found myself less sympathetic to the characters than I'd hoped. Most of my sympathies were for Parvaiz. I saw him as a lost young man..."

L..."


Parvaiz broke my heart.


Liesl | 513 comments Sofia wrote: "I felt really uncomfortable with the sex scene featuring Aneeka with her hijab. I sincerely hope it was an attempt on Shamsie‘s part to poke fun at Orientalist depictions of veiled Eastern women as..."

I'm a bit late to the discussion. Like Louise, I found Aneeka to be manipulative and also extremely self-centred. Looking at this scene from Aneeka's perspective, I felt that her decision to agree to leave the hijab on was symbolic of her lack of connection to that item. She wears it in conformity to her upbringing but I am not convinced that she is truly committed to the norms of that culture. Over the course of the story characters often reflect on Aneeka's ability to live one life at home and another away from it. I felt that if she truly wore it as a symbol of her beliefs then she could not denigrate it in that way.


message 32: by Liesl (last edited Jul 27, 2018 11:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liesl | 513 comments Laurie wrote: "I finished this today and I think it is a worthy winner of the Women's Prize. It isn't a perfect novel, and I agree that a few of the characters are possibly more stereotypical or less complex than..."

I found it very difficult to empathise with Aneeka because of how manipulative she was, and I could not justify her actions with Eamonn on the basis that she had a purpose for them. Right up to the end of the novel I never believed that Aneeka (view spoiler)


Liesl | 513 comments Louise wrote: "Carol wrote: "Great points. I found the beginning to be slow going but once Aneeka became the focus, Home Fire was compelling. I recall staying up until 3 a.m. to finish it on an evening I couldn’t..."

That is an interesting question. I chose to read the book by character. So I would sit down and read the two chapters on one character and then put it down for a couple of days before approaching the next. I wanted to allow myself the opportunity to let each character present their perspective of this tale without being tainted by the perspective of the other characters.

I don't think it would have made any difference to me whether I read Aneeka's perspective first as I couldn't empathise with the way she viewed life. I believe the events with Eamonn are probably reflective of how she always lived her life. We see that reflected in the chapters about Parvaiz as well in the way that she chooses when she is connected with him and when it doesn't suit her. To be honest, I also had issues with her decision (view spoiler)


Liesl | 513 comments Tamara wrote: "I saw the novel as an exploration of the influence of family and upbringing in determining the choices we make, especially in the case of Muslim immigrants post 9/11.

From my review:

This is a po..."


Tamara, in addition to the influence of family and upbringing, I also thought it was an exploration of the impact of immigration upon identity. We've seen that in other works that we have read like Zadie Smith's "White Teeth". I think that is what is so heartbreaking about Parvaiz's story.


Liesl | 513 comments Carol wrote: "Understood. Perhaps -- with the understanding that each sibling, in addition to being a fully realized character acting authentically, also represents in a broad sense three possible reactions to t..."

I think this is where the story of Antigone is actually important. As this is essentially a retelling of that work in present times it seems more likely that Aneeka is the modern Antigone who defies the decree of the ruler to ensure the burial of her brother. In the original work the character of Ismene, who like Isma chose to follow the decree of the ruler rather than cause problems, is a minor character and barely appears in the drama.


Liesl | 513 comments I found the perspective of Karamat Lone equally tragic. Unlike his counterpart Creon in Antigone, Karamat is not simply tyrannical. To achieve his goals in life he has to distance himself from his culture and his beliefs, and as a result he is loathed by his own people and never fully accepted by the rest. Ultimately, he no longer knows who he is and he believes he must be tougher on the terrorism issue because of his background.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 696 comments Liesl wrote: "Tamara, in addition to the influence of family and upbringing, I also thought it was an exploration of the impact of immigration upon identity. We've seen that in other works that we have read like Zadie Smith's "White Teeth". I think that is what is so heartbreaking about Parvaiz's story. ."

I agree with you completely. And I see a similar theme in White Teeth.


message 38: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It is an excellent read.


message 39: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Liesl wrote: "I found the perspective of Karamat Lone equally tragic. Unlike his counterpart Creon in Antigone, Karamat is not simply tyrannical. To achieve his goals in life he has to distance himself from his ..."

I loved Karamat's chapters. He's a pretty awful person in many ways, but I found him so damn fascinating.

Def one of my fave reads this year.

What did people thing of Aneeka's chapters, when we got them? I know I called her manipulative earlier, and I stand by that, but I also found her really compelling. I also find it interesting that even when we are given 'her' perspective, it seems to be mostly through fragments of newspaper clippings, keeping her and her exact motives (or how those motives have/haven't changed) pretty enigmatic.


Liesl | 513 comments Louise wrote: "Liesl wrote: "I found the perspective of Karamat Lone equally tragic. Unlike his counterpart Creon in Antigone, Karamat is not simply tyrannical. To achieve his goals in life he has to distance him..."

This has also been one of my favourites this year.

I wonder if Shamsie chose this method of presenting Aneeka's perspective to keep this work close to the original Antigone. In the original, apart from a brief scene between Antigone and Ismene, we don't really hear much from Antigone herself, most of the story is told via reports from the Sentry to Creon. While it does keep the story closer to the original, I found that it also makes it more difficult to empathise with Aneeka.

Another difference I noted between the two works was in the actions taken whilst defying authority. In the original work, Antigone does not involve anyone. She refuses Ismene's offer to help, and she goes to the site by herself. It makes her position more empathetic because it is easy to understand how a sister could still find the love to want her brother buried. In Home Fire, Aneeka (view spoiler) This is the act that I have trouble with. It is not that I cannot understand her desperation for her brother, I just cannot empathise with her lack of respect for Eamonn when she decides to use him that way.

Ultimately both works really make you think about an awful circumstance that actually exists in our world. The trauma for a family that aches for the child/sibling who has chosen to act against the State, and the consequences for the State of standing firm against citizens who defy laws. Standing firm seems to become a means for further justifying the actions of the terrorists amongst the disenfranchised rather than being a deterrent. While fear seems to eradicate empathy when people are viewing these situations. It really is a tragic situation that desperately needs a better solution.


message 41: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It was an excellent read.


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