Let me preface this review with 1) I did not realize the novel was the re-telling of Antigone (the play by Sophocles) and 2) even if I had known that, I have zero clue what happens in Antigone.
That being said...... Home Fire by Pakistani-British novelist Kamila Shamsie (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017) blew me away. I read the entire thing in one day (seems to be a fall for devouring books, what can I say). The story was so beautifully told; it is worth a read because of its nuanced dive into the complexities of homegrown terrorism. Billed as "Antigone in the age of ISIS," Shamsie tells the tale of three British Muslim siblings - Isma and twins Aneeka and Parvaiz - who grow up without a father (he had been killed en route to Guantánamo). Their stories intertwine with another British Muslim family: home secretary Karamat Lone and his son Eamonn. These five perspectives -- Isma, Aneeka, Paravaiz, Eamonn and Karamat -- shape the novel.
Some context (thank you, Vogue):
In 2014, under then–Home Secretary Theresa May, the British government expanded its power to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens suspected of terrorism. Previously, only those with dual nationality were at risk; after, even those with a less official claim to another homeland could be denaturalized. The state, in other words, sought rights that could, under conceivable circumstances, render its citizens stateless.
This question of citizenship shapes the novel -- can terrorists still be British citizens? At one point, Isma explains: "the 7/7 terrorists were never described by the media as 'British terrorists.' Even when the word 'British' was used, it was always 'British of Pakistani descent' or 'British Muslim' or, my favorite, 'British passport holders,' always something imposed between their Britishness and terrorism."
When the story begins, Isma is at Heathrow Airport, about to fly to America to begin her phD program, where she is detained and questioned for hours: "the tickets wouldn't be refunded, because the airline took no responsibility for passengers who arrived at the airport three hours ahead of the departure time and were escorted to an interrogation room."
In London, Aneeka is a student as Paraviz flees to Syria to join the media wing of ISIS. The other family -- the Lones -- has assimilated into British culture, discarding their Muslimness. Their lives collide in surprising way.
Shamsie writes about Parvaiz's decision to join ISIS in a surprisingly nuanced way. In an interview with Vogue, Shamsie says "I wasn’t interested in writing a story about the boys who are drawn to violence, who hate women, all of that. Looking at the propaganda, they were appealing to lost boys. I was interested in how young so many of the boys who go off are. They’re teenagers: really malleable and not necessarily smart. I was more interested in the story of the one who wanted to turn around and come back. But I didn’t want to do it in a way that goes: Oh, he isn’t responsible for any of his actions. He is responsible..."
My only frustration with the novel is that it kept you at a distance from the characters; the actions unfold through multiple layers: you watch someone watch something happen on TV. And since I have not read Antigone, I cannot write about the adaptation. I will defer to Dwight Gardner, who notes in the New York Times Book Review "It plays freely with Sophocles’ drama but hews to its themes: civil disobedience, fidelity and the law, especially as regards burial rights."
Last, a note on the title from Shamsie to leave you with: "The title plays on the two meanings of Home Fire: it can mean welcome and warmth, as in 'keep the home fires burning' or it can mean a house on fire."