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Book review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie’s award-winning novel Home Fire begins as a story of two families on either side of the fight against terrorism, but becomes an exploration of  love, loss, politics and power.

The book centres on Aneeka, the daughter of a terrorist, and Eamonn, the son of a British MP who has made his name due to his tough stance on terrorism.

The two meet and fall in love, with far-reaching consequences for themselves and their families. The climax of Home Fire might arrive late, but it certainly delivers a punch.

While the book is a modern retelling of Sophocles story of Antigone, I didn’t know this until I had finished it, but I don’t think the story suffered for that. But hearing of that inspiration for the novel, I was awed that Shamsie could write a story so skillfully, although it was based on another.

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Shamsie’s story is sensitive to the position of both Aneeka’s brother, who becomes involved in terrorism, and the hardline MP. Similarly, I felt my sympathies were torn between the headstrong Aneeka, her ignorant and immature brother, and the smitten but conflicted Eamonn. All evoked sympathy, despite the poor decisions they make.

The story of Aneeka, her brother who is recruited to ISIS, and her privileged boyfriend is full of longing, contradiction and ambiguity, but at its heart it is a commentary on political debate in which there exists great loss on both sides.

I recently heard Margaret Atwood talk about such political discourse, and the reality that in any complex debate, there is no distinct right or wrong. Usually, there is wrong on either side, but politicians must choose which wrong they believe is the lesser.

Home Fire pursues that notion of the ambiguity of right and wrong, where it is possible to sympathise with evil (Aneeka’s brother), while fully understanding the motivation of those who are trying to destroy it. Good and evil are subverted, and then put back in their places. It is a book that is hard to forget. It is brutal, yet beautiful, political yet personal. It is an early favourite for me so far this year.

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