Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Updated 06/06/2018: Congratulations to Kamila Shamsie who has been announced the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 with her novel, Home Fire.
Chair of Judges Sarah Sands said of the judging process: ‘In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.’
You’ll find my review of Home Fire (written before the winner of the award was announced) below.
Today on The Tattooed Book I review the second novel on my Women’s Book Prize reading list, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.
Aneeka is forced into parenthood early when he mother passes away at work and her absent jihadist dies while being transferred to Guantanamo Bay. Struggling with her own grief, she’s suddenly left in her Wembley home with her younger twin siblings to care for.
Years after her parent’s death, we meet Aneeka as she studies in America. Amazed that she is granted a visa and happy at being able to continue an education that was put on hold after her mother’s death, she throws herself into life in the USA. Over lunch at work, she’s excited to hear another British Asian voice but her happiness is short-lived as she soon discovers the man behind the accent is the son of a family enemy. Her community had watched the man’s father rise through political ranks and were ashamed to see him brush away his Muslim heritage for the sake of popularity. At first, she’s cold with the son, Eamonn, but against her will she warms to him and when he returns back to London he offers to take a package home for her.
There he meets Isma, Aneeka’s younger sister and the beauty of the family. Modern, feisty and assertive, she does what Aneeka hadn’t and takes him to bed. Only much later, after she has a key to his flat and his father is announced British home secretary, does she share the truth about her own father and their family connection. But the biggest secret is about her twin brother, Parvaiz, who left their London home to join the media unit of Isis. Can the daughter of a jihadist really love a politician’s son? Or is she using him for something more sinister? One thing is for sure, the tabloids are going to make their own judgements.
Home Fire is an incredible novel of uncomfortable truths, the first few pages open with Aneeka’s experience of manoeuvring through customs at Heathrow airport while heading to the USA. She is well aware she has been watched by MI5 for years and as her luggage is rifled through and a customs official implies some of her items are stolen, she is asked to prove her Britishness by answering questions about The Queen and homosexuality. She’s eventually cleared through customs but only after her flight has already left. Instead of raging against the injustice, she does what she can and gets on with her new life. This opening scene perfectly encapsulates the careful, watched life that Aneeka has had to lead and the situations that British Muslims are facing every day.
For passionate, character-driven fiction you’ll struggle to find better than Home Fire. Aneeka is calm, practical, grounded and intelligent; Isma is just as intelligent but fiery, passionate and unpredictable, while their brother Parvaiz is quieter, a music maker without a real sense of direction. This and the loss of his father is what the recruiting agents for Isis take full advantage of. They lure him with friendship and details of the father he never really knew, then expose him to the torture his father received. Instead of running, he stays to learn more.
Although Aneeka is the first character you meet and the mother-figure in this story, it’s the relationship between twins Isma and Parvais that pulls at the heartstrings. Kamila Shamsie captures their closeness and their unique bond with such charm, it’s a joy to read. After losing their parents, they turned to each other and it’s this intense relationship that leads Isma to go to the extremes portrayed in this story.
I feel like I could write about how much I loved this book and the relationships between the characters for hours but I’m doing my best to avoid any spoilers. Kamila Shamsie manages to easily create the shades of grey between right and wrong and invites you to watch how relationships are pulled apart while people believe they are doing the right thing. I’ll be careful to tip-toe around the ending, but to put it simply, I didn’t see it coming and it took my breath away. Race, religion, grief and family all collide in this incredible modern retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone.
If you read this blog for book group recommendations then I would definitely flag this title. There is so much to discuss and it’s so beautifully written that it fits that niche perfectly.
This is only the second novel from the Women’s Prize shortlist that I have read but it’s hard to imagine that any of the four other shortlisted titles are going to be better than Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. I haven’t read something this passionate and moving in a long time.