Home Fire

Home Fire

15 August 2017

Home Fire is a 2017 novel by Pakistani-British author Kamila Shamsie. A contemporary rewriting of Antigone, a tragedy by the Ancient Greek writer Sophocles, it connects the Greek commentary on the failures of nationalism to present-day xenophobia aga...

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Home Fire is a 2017 novel by Pakistani-British author Kamila Shamsie. A contemporary rewriting of Antigone, a tragedy by the Ancient Greek writer Sophocles, it connects the Greek commentary on the failures of nationalism to present-day xenophobia against Muslim immigrants in Britain.

Home Fire (2017) is the seventh novel by Kamila Shamsie.

Kamila Shamsie (born 13 August 1973) is a British Pakistani writer and novelist who is known for her award-winning novel Home Fire.



Shamsie wrote her first novel, In The City by the Sea, while still in college, and it was published in1998 when she was 25. It was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in the UK,and Shamsie received the Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her second novel, Salt and Saffron, followed in 2000, after which she was selected as one of Orange's 21 Writers of the21st century. Her third novel, Kartography (2002), received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys award in the UK. Both Kartography and her next novel, Broken Verses (2005), have won the Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan.Her fifth novel Burnt Shadows (2009) was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction. A God in Every Stone (2014) was shortlisted for the2015 Walter Scott Prize and the Baileys Women's Prize For Fiction. Her seventh novel, Home Fire, was longlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize, and in 2018 won the Women's Prize for Fiction.


In 2009, Kamila Shamsie donated the short story "The Desert Torso" to Oxfam's Ox-Tales project – four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the Air collection. She attended the 2011 Jaipur Literature Festival, where she spoke about her style of writing. She participated in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty-Six Books, with a piece based on a book of the King James Bible. In 2013 she was included in the Granta list of 20 best young British writers. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.



    1999: Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan, for In the City by the Sea

    2002: Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan, for Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan

    2005: Patras Bokhari Award, for Broken Verses

    2010: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, for Burnt Shadows

    2018: Women's Prize for Fiction, for Home Fire

    2019: Nelly Sachs Prize, (rescinded, no new winner nominated), in honour of her literary work, however, "The German city of Dortmund has withdrawn its decision to award a British Pakistani writer a literature prize, citing her support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement."




    In the City by the Sea (1998), ISBN 0-14-028181-9

    Salt and Saffron (2000), ISBN 1-58234-261-X, OCLC 968548654

    Kartography (2002), ISBN 0-15-602973-1

    Broken Verses (2005), ISBN 0-15-603053-5

    Offence: the Muslim case (2009), ISBN 1-906497-03-6, OCLC 232980963

    Burnt Shadows (2009), ISBN 0-312-55187-8

    A God in Every Stone (2014), ISBN 978-1-4088-4720-6, OCLC 939530755

    Home Fire (2017), ISBN 978-1-4088-8677-9

It reimagines Sophocles's play Antigone unfolding among British Muslims. The novel follows the Pasha family: twin siblings Aneeka and Parvaiz and their older sister Isma, who has raised them in the seven years since the siblings were orphaned by the death of their mother; their jihadi father, whom the twins never knew, is also dead. Parvaiz attempts to follow in his father's footsteps by joining ISIS in Syria, but when he decides he has made a serious mistake, his twin sister attempts to help him return to Britain, in part through her romantic relationship with Eamonn Lone. Eammon is the son of British Home Secretary Karamat Lone, who has built his political career on his rejection of his own Muslim background. The effort to bring Parvaiz home fails: Parvaiz is shot to death trying to escape, then Eamonn and Aneeka, trying to return Parvaiz's body to the UK over the objections of Karamat Lone, die in a terrorist attack.


Home Fire won the Women's Prize for Fiction 2018,and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize2017 and shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018.


The concerns of the novel include the identity and security of Muslims in Britain. It speaks of the troubles of Muslims as they struggle to maintain a unique cultural identity while defending their ''Britishness'' and loyalty to the state against political and social activists who wish to alienate them.

Shamsie began Home Fire at the suggestion of London theatre director Jatinder Verma that Shamsie write a modern update of Antigone, by Sophocles. Shamsie was interested in the project and quickly decided on what the story she would tell, though she preferred to pursue it as a novel rather than a play.


In an interview with The Jakarta Post, she described her writing process:


    ''When I read the play—which has at its center two sisters who respond differently to the legal repercussions of their brother's act of treason—I knew immediately that I wanted to connect it to a story that was very much in the news at the time, that of young British Muslims and their relationship with the British state...When you write a novel you don't think about subjects as being sensitive or not—you just think of them as being interesting and complex, and you wonder how to tell them in a story that's about a group of characters.''


The book's epigraph quotes from Seamus Heaney's translation of Antigone: "The ones we love ... are enemies of the state."


The 288-page novel was published on 15 August 2017, by Riverhead Books. It was serialised for BBC Radio 4 in April 2019.

The novel received widely favorable reviews. In The Guardian, Natalie Haynes said, "Shamsie’s prose is, as always, elegant and evocative. Home Fire pulls off a fine balancing act: it is a powerful exploration of the clash between society, family and faith in the modern world, while tipping its hat to the same dilemma in the ancient one." In The Washington Post, Katharine Weber said the novel "blazes with the kind of annihilating devastation that transcends grief."Garner said the novel "may seem to wobble" in middle portions, "lurching shifts of tone as it moves between matters of the heart and of state," but strongly encouraged readers to stick Home Fire, as "builds to one of the most memorable final scenes I've read in a novel this century."


Home Fire was longlisted as a candidate for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 and won the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction


On November 5, 2019, the BBC News listed Home Fire on its list of the 100 most influential novels.



Natalie Haynes


In Sophocles’s play Antigone a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor) and religious law (the traitor is Antigone’s brother, Polynices, who has declared war on his city, and killed his own brother, Eteocles, along the way). Antigone’s “good” brother gets a funeral, the “bad” one is left to rot. Leaving a relative unburied is profoundly taboo in ancient Greece, so Antigone must decide: does she obey her conscience and bury Polynices – the punishment for which is the death penalty – or does she obey the law and leave her brother to be picked apart by dogs?


And this, essentially, is the dilemma faced by Aneeka, the beating heart of Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie’s Man Booker-longlisted loose contemporary reworking of Antigone. Her twin brother, Parvaiz, has left London to work for the media arm of Isis, after discovering that his absent father died en route to Guantánamo. Her sister Isma tells the police where he has gone and Aneeka is appalled: “You betrayed us, both of us. And then you tried to hide it from me. Don’t call, don’t text, don’t send the pictures, don’t fly across the ocean and expect me to ever agree to see your face again. We have no sister.” It is a beautifully Sophoclean touch that Aneeka is far angrier with her sister for betraying their brother than she is with her brother for betraying them both.


The build-up to disaster is told with an ever-increasing tension. We begin with Isma, the older sister to the twins, the voice of compromise and accommodation. Her wry cleverness is so compelling that it is difficult not to pine for her in the later stages of the novel, from which she is largely absent (Ismene, in Sophocles’s version of the myth, has only a paltry 60 lines). When Isma first meets Eamonn, the non-religious son of an authoritarian British home secretary who has sought to put his Muslim faith behind him, she is studying in the US and he is there on holiday. “Is that a style thing or a Muslim thing?” he asks, about the turban she wears. “You know,” she replies, “the only two people in Massachusetts who have ever asked me about it both wanted to know if it’s a style thing or a chemo thing.”


There is an undeniable connection between Isma and Eamonn. But on his return to London, he falls for her sister Aneeka, who sees him as a possible ticket home for her lost brother. She is unrepentant for the way she trades on him: “I wanted Eamonn to want to do anything for me before I asked him to do something for my brother. Why shouldn’t I admit it? What would you stop at to help the people you love most?”


In some ways, Shamsie owes a greater debt to Jean Anouilh’s adaptation of Antigone than to the Sophoclean version: for Sophocles, Antigone is the older sister, who acts as she does because she is an extremist. But she is also filled with piety. If Sophocles’s play has a simple message, it is that older generations do not always know better than their children, and that religious duty trumps our obligations to civil society. To put it in terms of a philosophical debate that was much discussed in Athens at the time the play was first performed, phusis – natural law – is more important than nomos – man-made law.


But Anouilh, writing during the second world war, saw things differently. He reversed the birth order of the two sisters: for him, Antigone was not the dutiful older sister, but rather the young rebel. And in Home Fire, Isma is much older. “She’s my sister,” she says of Aneeka. “Almost my child.” This blurring of roles is a neat modern echo of the troubled bloodline of Antigone and Ismene, whose parents were Oedipus – also their half-brother – and Jocasta, who was both their mother and grandmother.


It is in this move away from the earliest incarnations of the myth that Shamsie’s novel is most successful: she drops the incestuous nature of the children’s parentage, and ditches the second brother, so that Parvaiz is guilty of all kinds of things, but not fratricide. This costs her something in the ambivalence the reader must feel about Parvaiz and correspondingly reduces some of the potency of Aneeka’s sacrifice. But it grounds the novel in the here and now, rather than allowing it to slide into melodrama, an undeniable risk with tragedy-turned-fiction – although it perhaps contributes to the novel’s slightly frustrating conclusion.


Shamsie’s prose is, as always, elegant and evocative. Home Fire pulls off a fine balancing act: it is a powerful exploration of the clash between society, family and faith in the modern world, while tipping its hat to the same dilemma in the ancient one.


Book Awards

Women's Prize for Fiction

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