It’s late afternoon, and I’m writing my blog post in the comfort of my air-conditioned living room. I was up extra early this morning, got out for a walk, got all my cooking and gardening done before it got too humid, and now I’m trying to get into a blogging mood, which is actually much more difficult than I thought it would be. So please bear with me if my post sounds disjointed and less-than-inspired.
It’s a shame that I’m lacking my usual blogging enthusiasm, because the book I read last week was truly amazing. Home Fires by Kamila Shamsie, winner of the 2018 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, explores how the lure of terrorism is affecting Britain’s Muslim youth. At the age of 28, Isma is finally free to pursue her dreams, after years of raising her twin brother and sister following the death of their grandmother and mother seven years before. Isma is significantly older than the twins, and with a jihadist father whose life with the children was brief and sketchy at best and who died in uncertain circumstances on his way to Guantanamo many years earlier, Isma has shouldered the role of parent, supported by her extended family, Aunty Naseem and the cousins. But now she is off to Amherst Massachusetts to resume her PhD studies, where she meets Eamonn, son of the UK Home Secretary, Karamat Lone. She is clearly smitten with him, but he, unfortunately, only has eyes for her younger sister, Aneeka, with whom he takes up a relationship upon his return to London. Aneeka sees Eamonn as a conduit to reaching the Home Secretary in an effort to bring her brother back home. Parvaiz has been lured by the recruitment arm of ISIS after learning more about his father’s life and mission before his death, and works for the media arm of the terrorist group in Syria, but he becomes disillusioned and wishes to return home to his family and his “real” life. As a member of ISIS, however, this is nearly impossible, and Aneeka does everything in her power to help, including manipulating Eamonn into approaching his father. What follows is the heartwrenching story of the effects of distorted religious faith in the hands of one family, and the far-reaching consequences and difficult decisions so many people are faced with because of the actions of one misguided youth. I read that this was a contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ play Antigone, about a teenage girl who must choose between obeying the law of the land, as represented by her family, and religious law. I know nothing about this play, but when reading this short novel, it had the feeling of a play retold, although I didn’t know this for a fact until much later. I sometimes find novels told from various points of view to be either confusing or repetitive, but this one, told from the points of view of Isma, Aneeka, Eamonn, Parvais and Karamat, was none of these things. Rather, it flowed as though it was one story told by a succession of storytellers, each patiently waiting for their turn to share the next section of the tale. It was short, barely 275 pages, but Shamsie never made the narrative seem skimped or incomplete, but rather it was told sparingly yet fully, with sufficient detail that I as the reader felt fully engaged. She may have been able to achieve this because the story is so very timely, and even the most politically illiterate of us (like me!) understands what is going on. This novel had depth and emotional pull, and had me racing to the last page, which offered a satisfying, albeit tragic, conclusion. I would highly recommend this novel and will seek out others by this author (I think this is her seventh book).
That's all for today. Stay cool and keep reading!Bye for now…