- The novel is based on Sophocles’ Antigone – how does Shamsie use this shift in genre?
- Muslim identity, in contrast with national identity, and the pressure to assimilate
- Borders and the global reach of the “war on terror”
- Fathers and sons, familial and cultural heritage
JOIN US FOR OUR VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB MEETING
While we’re unable to meet in the theater, we’re taking our book club online. We hope it’ll be a great way to read new books and stay connected. The event for Home Fire will be Friday, May 15 from 5-6pm on Zoom. RSVP here to receive the link.
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.
Isma’s sister, not quite nineteen, with her law student brain, who knew everything about her rights and nothing about the fragility of her place in the world. (6)
“Do you consider yourself British?” the man said.
“I am British.”
“But do you consider yourself British?”
“I’ve lived here all my life.” She meant there was no other country of which she could feel herself a part, but the words came out sounding evasive.
The interrogation continued for nearly two hours. (5)
This was not grief. It was rage. It was his rage, the boy who allowed himself every emotion but rage, so it was the unfamiliar part of him, that was all he was allowing her now, it was all she had left of him. She held it to her breast, she fed it, she stroked its mane, she whispered love to it under the starless sky, and sharpened her teeth on its gleaming claws. (198)
“Will you help me?”
“Why can you never understand the position we’re in?… Go back to uni, study the law. Accept the law, even when it’s unjust.”
“You don’t love either justice or our brother if you can say that.”
“Well, I love you too much to see anything else right now.”
“Your love is useless to me if you won’t help.”
“Your love is useless to him now he’s dead.” (203)
Grief manifested itself in ways that felt like anything but grief; grief obliterated all feelings but grief; grief made a twin wear the same shirt for days on end to preserve the morning on which the dead were still living; grief made a twin peel stars off the ceiling and lie in bed with glowing points adhered to fingertips; grief was bad-tempered, grief was kind; grief saw nothing but itself; grief saw every speck of pain in the world; grief spread its wings large like an eagle, grief huddled small like a porcupine; grief needed company, grief craved solitude; grief wanted to remember, wanted to forget; grief raged, grief whimpered; grief made time compress and contract; grief tasted like hunger, felt like numbness, sounded like silence; grief tasted like bile, felt like blades, sounded like all the noise of the world. Grief was a shape-shifter, and invisible too; grief could be captured as a reflection in a twin’s eye. Grief heard its death sentence the morning you both woke up and one was singing and the other caught the song. (188)
We will not let those who turn against the soil of Britain in their lifetime sully that very soil in death. […]
This was not grief. It was rage. It was his rage, the boy who allowed himself every emotion but rage, so it was the unfamiliar part of him, that was all he was allowing her now, it was all she had left of him. She held it to her breast, she fed it, she stroked its mane, she whispered love to it under the starless sk, and sharpened her teeth on its gleaming claws. (198)
“In the stories of wicked tyrants, men and women are punished with exile, bodies are kept from their families – their heads impaled on skips, their corpses thrown into unmarked graves. All these things happen according to the law, but not according to justice. I am here to ask for justice. I appeal to the prime minister: Let me take my brother home.” (237)
The British Deputy High Commission compound was surrounded by barbed wire, vans bristling with guns, and roadblocks to prevent any stranger’s approach. But just a few minutes’ walk away there was a park lined with banyan trees, their ancient overground roots more enduring than wire rusting in the sea air or guns that jammed with dust or the calculations made today by politicians looking to the next elections.
Here she would sit with her brother until the world changed or both of them crumbled into the soil around them. (222)
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.