Why This Book?
Home Fire is a modern retelling of Antigone, taking familiar characters and putting them in a contemporary setting. JoAnne Akalaitis’s BAD NEWS! i was there… also emphasizes the urgent relevance of Greek tragedy in our contemporary lives, and the resonance of ancient characters to the everyday violence and trauma we experience either first-hand or through the news.
Plus, it’s a good book! Kamila Shamsie makes smart, effective choices about which parts of the play to emphasize and what to streamline. The translation from play to novel also allows her a more meditative beginning – rather than starting in media res, Shamsie lets her reader spend time with the characters who don’t have prominent voices in the play. The book opens with her rendering of Ismene, and allows the reader to come to know Ismene and Antigone’s brother before ratcheting up the action in the last half (that is to say – luxuriate in the character studies!). Spoilers – the inevitability of the ending is gut-wrenching, no matter how sure you are of what’s coming.
About the Book
Read an excerpt of Home Fire.
Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Karachi, where she grew up. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While at the University of Massachusetts she wrote In The City By The Sea, published by Granta Books UK in 1998. This first novel was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys Award in the UK, and Shamsie received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her 2000 novel Salt and Saffron led to Shamsie’s selection as one of Orange’s “21 Writers of the 21st Century.” With her third novel, Kartography, Shamsie was again shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys award in the UK. Both Kartography and her next novel, Broken Verses, won the Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan. Burnt Shadows, Shamsie’s fifth novel, has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her books have been translated into a number of languages.
Shamsie is the daughter of literary critic and writer Muneeza Shamsie, the niece of celebrated Indian novelist Attia Hosain, and the granddaughter of the memoirist Begum Jahanara Habibullah. A reviewer and columnist, primarily for the Guardian, Shamsie has been a judge for several literary awards including The Orange Award for New Writing and The Guardian First Book Award. She also sits on the advisory board of the Index on Censorship.
For years Shamsie spent equal amounts of time in London and Karachi, while also occasionally teaching creative writing at Hamilton College in New York State. She now lives primarily in London.
Get Into It
Interview with Kamila Shamsie
“When you ask if it’s possible for a minority to be accepted without having to resort to jettisoning part of themselves, my response is to want to know who you think needs to do the accepting.”
Review: Home Fire
The pacing in Home Fire is near perfect; it’s a difficult book to put down, especially once the reader becomes invested in the characters. And thanks to Shamsie’s detailed look at the members of the two families, that doesn’t take long.