I don't love this book, but I understand why people are excited about it. Kamila Shamsie, a Londoner raised in Karachi, has written seven novels. With the exception of her most recent publication, Shamsie's novels are significantly more popular in England than in the US. Home Fire has been on my reading list for the past month because it received the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction, one of the UK's most distinguished literary awards (for what it's worth, Home Fire was also longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker). Shamsie beat out some literary giants (such as Jesmyn Ward--Sing, Unburied, Sing) to win the 2018 Women's Prize, so I figured I should read her stuff.
Home Fire follows a British family of Pakistani descent that gets mixed up with ISIS. The book is a modern retelling of Sophocles' Antigone--so if you know Antigone there aren't many plot twists here. At the crux of the story is a young woman's attempts to bury her twin brother, Parvaiz, who is a "traitor to the state." Aneeka and Parvaiz are best friends until Parvaiz decides to follow his father's jihadist legacy by joining the media arm of ISIS. Though Aneeka begs him to return home, Parvaiz can't escape. Eamon, the son of the British Home Secretary, eventually falls in love with Aneeka, vastly complicating an already dire situation. Eamon attempts to convince his father (the powerful politician) to pardon Parvaiz, though his efforts fail spectacularly. There is somewhat of a twist at the end (the heartbreaking, final scene is one of the best parts of the book).
Ultimately, the construction of Shamsie's novel prevents me from fulling engaging with these characters. The book is split into five parts, each from a different point of view. I generally appreciate the reworking of Sophocles' Antigone, but every time I finally got "into the book" the perspective shifted. I also struggled with some of the writing. I got confused several times (with the shifting perspectives, run on sentences, etc). I just didn't enjoy reading this. I was worried that I was alone in some of these more negative reactions to Home Fire, but many reviewers expressed similar feelings.
The judges for the 2018 Women's Prize are correct in their assessment that Home Fire is "the story of our times." The premise itself (reworking Sophocles' Antigone to include the story of a British family's connection with ISIS) is kind of brilliant. I look forward to hearing more perspectives on Home Fire-- I know a lot of people loved it.