It’s not often that one comes across an award-winning novel, which is based on ancient Greek tragedy, that also happens to be a page-turner. Yet Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is precisely that. It is possible to devour it in a single setting.
The plot is a retelling of Antigone: two sisters, Isma and Aneeka have lived in London all their lives. Their younger brother, Parvaiz runs off to Syria to join the Islamic State. While Isma reports her brother’s absence to the British police, worrying that she and her sister might be implicated by association, Aneeka decides to seduce the son of the Home Secretary in a desperate attempt to get her brother home safe. The Home Secretary, Karamat Lone, sees their brother as an opportunity to show his strong stance on fighting terrorism – and distancing himself from his own heritage.
As traditional for me in reading the story of Antigone, I feel far more sympathy for Isma than I ever am supposed to feel. Particularly as in this version of the story, she was in charge of bringing up both Aneeka and Parvaiz – and I think those two only got to be so idealistic because they were sheltered by their eldest sister’s pragmatism throughout their lives.
The overwhelming feeling is a sense of loss. The conflict between state and family loyalty predictably leaves no victors.