Reviewed by Lawrence Manalastas
By Kamila Shamsie
288 pp. Riverhead Books.
In Home Fire, the latest from acclaimed Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie, what begins as a simple story of young people embarking on personal odysseys—pursuing dreams, mingling with others, and fashioning friendly and intimate relations—escalates into a more serious and complex fare, as devastating secrets and moral dilemmas come afloat the surface.
Years after their mother’s demise, British Muslim siblings Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz Pasha come of age and go their separate ways, to thrive independently along chosen career paths. Isma flies to America to commence a long put-off dream; Aneeka is a lawyer-in-training back in London, while her twin Parvaiz has his sights set on all things audio, before disappearing on a private mission.
Things take an intriguing turn when Eamonn Lone wanders his way into the narrative. Eamonn is the son of the UK home secretary who, despite his wealthy and powerful background, is a drifter—switching jobs and places to get out of his father’s shadow, searching for an identity of his own. When this aimless meandering leads him towards Isma and Aneeka, it opened up romantic prospects on his part.
Except here’s the rub—the Pasha sisters have a family history involving a jihadist father lost to the war, as well as a brother who is feared to be trailing in his footsteps. These personal circumstances are not only at odds with Eamonn’s own, given his political relations; they also go against the best interests of the country they all call home.
Even with its young adult undertones, Home Fire is, for the most part, a political novel. It skillfully weaves the threads of mere personal and familial conflicts into the fabric of a bigger battle—the war on terror, and its crippling effects on nations, religions, lives, and futures.
Shamsie is a gifted storyteller. A Muslim herself, she pays rapt attention to the goings-on around her and finds the story in them. Her prose engages as it affects, and in the span of a paragraph or a few pages, it could go from mundane to probing, innocent to sinister, straightforward to poetic, cryptic to enlightening. Her plotting moves with a graceful tempo, shifting from one standpoint to the next, takes slow first steps, and then builds momentum and picks up a riveting pace all the way through. Her characters are delicately conceived, with human complexities that show through when confronted with life’s big questions and hard realities.
Fiction doesn’t get any timelier and more relevant than this—it’s impossible to catch today’s news and not think about this book. Home Fire renders a face to the headlines. It is as much an achievement for its writer as for contemporary literature, with its bold and provocative voice, its creation of social awareness, and its subtle clamor for change.
Unforgettable, powerful, and important—this is Shamsie’s gift to humanity.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie will be published on August 15, 2017, and will be available soon at Fully Booked. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in high school, Lawrence has had a fancy for Shakespearean sonnets, and contributed a few of his own to the school paper. He initially aspired to be a poet, but ended up writing prose instead. He lives by the river.
Lawrence is a member of the First Look Club.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]