Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Book Review: "Home Fire" by Kamila Shamsie

Ever since their mother and grandmother died within the period of a year, Isma has cared for her younger twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their well-being has always been her first concern, even if it meant sacrificing her own dreams and ambitions. But now that the twins have turned 18, Isma is finally putting herself first, accepting an invitation from a mentor to travel to America and co-author a paper with her.

That doesn't mean Isma won't worry about her siblings—Aneeka, smart, beautiful, and headstrong, is pursuing studies in law, while Parvaiz has left their London home to try and understand the legacy of their father, who was once a jihadist. Isma does what she believes is right, even as it causes a rift in her family, but she is bound and determined that her brother will not follow in her father's footsteps.

"For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition."

When Eamonn, the son of a prominent British politician who has struggled with his own Muslim background in furthering his ambitions, enters the sisters' lives, he, too, causes a rift that he doesn't quite realize at first. Who is he to them? Is he a romantic possibility? A chance to enact revenge? The last hope for a wayward brother? The linchpin of a political crisis? Suddenly many lives hang in the balance, as true intentions are sought to be understood, and emotions are analyzed.

What is stronger, blood or love? Can we ever overcome the obligations of family in order to move on with our lives, and if we can, should we? In Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie attempts to answer those questions, as two families deal with the questions of love and loyalty, and how slippery the slope is when we start choosing enemies based on cultural generalizations.

This is a powerful, timely book, and Shamsie does a good job navigating difficult political territory. For the most part, these are interesting characters, and I really became immersed in their stories. I felt, however, the book lost its way in telling Parvaiz's story, for while it was important to the plot, it just wasn't as interesting, and a lot was left unsaid. I also felt that Isma, who plays such a key role at the start of the book, is given short shrift, yet she is fascinating, evidenced by an all-too-short encounter with the politician which seemed like it could have developed into more.

Shamsie is a talented writer, and this book is definitely a thought-provoking one about the ties of family and the immigrant experience. While it didn't resonate for me as much as, say, Exit West, it's still a powerful read.

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