Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

"There he sat, his father's son. It didn't matter if they were on this or that side of the political spectrum, or whether their fathers were absent or present, or if someone else had loved them better, loved them more: in the end they were always their fathers' sons."

I've been waiting for this pre-order to hit my mailbox for quite some time and it arrived just before I went on holiday. While I'd only heard good things, I'd not paid much attention to the content. Needless to say, I felt a little nervous travelling into the USA reading a book about two sisters with a jihadi brother and yet this novel is so much more than that.It is about family and the intense impact they can have on your life.

While trying to avoid spoilers, I have to say the last pages left me  physically shaken and aware of the fact that I'd held my breath for just a little too long in shock. This book is timely and amazing. We, as humans, are always afraid of the other, it is our natural fall back position and can cause a lot of trouble. When things go wrong we all point fingers and make judgements to appease our sense of righting wrongs, even when sometimes those judgements can be misguided.

It's a fraught notion for me in some ways, particularly when the judgements are around religious persuasions. Being an atheist, a part of me struggles to understand people who follow any set religious doctrine. My fears around the way dogma can be twisted to divide and promote hostility are at the centre of that. However, I respect that everyone has a right to their own opinions, provided they are not hurting anyone. If I attend any kind of religious celebration or funeral, I aim to be respectful in that house of worship, as I would be in anyone's home, even if I feel a sense of unease. Looking at this very human story, you can feel a palpable sense of unease at the society we live in today. One where people are forced to construct a palatable social narrative to fit in, despite their other senses of obligation and beliefs.

Sisters Isma and Anneka's interactions with the new home secretary's son, seem rather innocent at first. The nature of the circumstances of their brother Parvaiz are not immediately revealed and it becomes a slow burn to see what is really happening. You can feel the conflict between family connections/expectations, and societal ones in a world where complex disagreements are all too often shrouded in black or white statements that don't fit the bill. 

Here is a son,Parvaiz, bereft of a father, who is taken in and shown a new truth. It is a seductive argument, that has him leave his everyday life and travel to a war zone to make terrorist propaganda, a reality which he shuns when he realises its true horrors and from which it seems impossible for him to escape from. History is full of ideological young men going off to fight battles based upon romantic notions of idealism and I think that is why it is so hard to dissuade kids from getting swept up into that kind of action.Throw into the mix, being mistreated for your beliefs, or banned from certain countries on their basis and you have a perfect storm for developing generations of unrest.

The impact of the girls' brother's actions is wide reaching and harrowing. Beyond the horrors, he is complicit in recording, it is the devastation his choice to become a foreign fighter wrecks on not only their own family, but so many others that truly smarts and it is the impact on the novel's central love story that is the most keenly felt. I think this one just might win the Booker Prize - it should.

5 out of 5, not a relaxing read by any stretch of the imagination.

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