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  • Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire - critical review

I love the story of 'Antigone' (Sophocles) and was really interested when hearing that Shamshie's book is a modern adaption of this Greek Tragedy. This book was published in August 2017. After reading the book, I read a few (of many) articles online about the story, which provided me with multiple perspectives about the topics covered and the plot itself, and if you have read the book I urge you to also read a few of these. (Links at the bottom)

The novel echoes the story of Antigone: in which someone who betrays of the state is not allowed to be buried. Polynices, the brother of Antigone, fights for the opposing side in a battle, and therefore Creon, the leader of the state, does not allow him the rights to be buried. Home fire takes this story and adapts it to a very pressing and modern plot: in which Parvaiz, Shamsie's Polynices, gets brainwashed and goes to fight for the Islamic terrorist group Isil. Mirroring the story of Antigone, he is not allowed to be buried in England, where he grew up. Aneeka, the novels Antigone, feels this isn't justified and demands him to be sent back to the United Kingdom to be buried.

Something I found really interesting about the novel was that it was told in parts that were directed to a certain character. This meant that you read from all characters perspectives. In terms of reading Parvaiz narration, it meant as a reader, the process of brainwashing is implemented and although recognising the character of Parvaiz is wrong in his actions, you do feel sympathetic towards him. At first, I thought this was almost an echo of the idea of sympathy for the devil, which is notably explored in 'Paradise Lost' and also 'Frankenstein' in which the most sympathetic character is the Devil. But i think instead, it is portraying that those that appear evil, in some circumstances, are instead mistaken in some way. The character of Parvaiz is a teaching of the fragility of the mindset, and how easily influenced it is by others. The man who brainwashes Parvaiz into believing the Islamic terrorist group Isil's portrayal in the media has been misleading and incorrect. He forces Parvaiz to believe that both his and his late fathers, actions are justified which leads Parvaiz to the decision of joining the group, believing it is the right thing to do. The novel was really clever in the way that the character of Parvaiz was explored, and his intentions were notably not evil, they were instead a misjudgement. This was hugely significant to me as it explored the power individuals have over other people, leading them to believe an evil action is a good one.

The exploration of citizenship was also really significant within the novel, especially as it is such a pressing and relevant issue in today's society. Only a couple of months before the publishing of the novel, the Imam of the Manchester Mosque declared that "we cannot offer prayers for someone who has committed such an act." Furthermore, the idea of national citizenship is portrayed as Karamat, the novels Creon, declares that dual nationals that have betrayed their country are stripped of British citizenship. This idea is extremely relevant to todays society, and mirrors the views of the government as the novel was written: Theresa May declaring that British citizenship is a "privelege, not a right" and represents many cases, for example Mahdi Hashi, who got his British citizenship taken away in 2012 after travelling to Somalia to allegedly fight with 'al-Shabaab'. [see article linked at bottom of page] This decision within the novel leads to Parvaiz not being allowed to return to England and be buried. The novel asks if this decision was the just thing to do. Shamsie portrays the character of Parvaiz as vulnerable and naive to his actions, being influenced by another person in his decision to move from London and quickly realising he was mistaken when he gets there. Anneka argues the side that Parvaiz should return to London, and declares "all these things happen according to the law, but not according to justice. I am here to ask for justice." This quote is a recognition of both natural law (which is the prominent message in Sophocles' Antigone) and I thought also a representative of the ideas of situation ethics. Natural law provides the idea that there is a higher law of justice and the laws of the state do not always implement it. The argument of Aquinas that if there is an unjust law of the state is no law at all (MLK also argued this "an unjust law is no law at all") is used here by the character of Aneeka, who believes that this law of the state is unjust. What was interesting is Shamsie left the question open for the reader to decide if the decision of Karamat (to deny him of his citizenship and not allow him to be buried in England) is justified or not, and if not, why not? I also recognised the idea of situation ethics in this quote: John Fletcher argued that justice is unconditional love (or "agape".) Here, Aneeka pleas for justice, but really she is pleading for unconditional love. This also requires the questions: is justice the same as unconditional love? Is it loving to let Parvaiz be buried in England, or is the decision to prohibit it justified?

Furthermore, a question that Shamsie asked, through the character of Aneeka, is what an evil action is. Aneeka seemed more angry at her sister, Isma, who told the police where their brother was. Aneeka said to her sister "don't fly across the ocean and expect me to ever agree to see your face again. We have no sister." Aneeka, therefore, defends her brother, who has done the physical act of betrayal, but she is more angry at her sister, who in Aneekas eyes, has broken the familial love and trust more than their brother. Aneeka represents the belief that her sister has betrayed them more than her brother, as he was influenced by an "apparent good" in his action, compared to Isma who actively 'betrayed' them (in Aneeka's eyes). This urges the question of morality: if you are betraying someone and being aware of this (Isma), is this worse than betraying someone for what you believe is a good reason? (Parvaiz)

Familial love, and the idea of 'prima facie duties' are also implemented are applied and therefore questioned within the novel. There is the question throughout about how far people should go for love. The relationship between Aneeka, and Karamats son, Eamonn, is a representation of Aneeka using consequentialism, in which she is basing the act upon the intention to help her brother return to the United Kingdom. Shamsie does portray the love between Aneeka and Eamonn as genuine, but the fact Aneeka's intention is for someone else's benefit, asks the question how far you can go for familial love. She betrays one person in order to be loyal to another: her brother. Aneeka admits her intention "I wanted Eamonn to want to do something for me" and then asks "what would you stop at to help the people you love most?" This question, again, asks the reader if her action is justified, as she acts upon love but in a consequentialist way instead of the act itself. I thought by questioning love in this way by combining relationship and familial love was a really clever representation of the problem people face when forced to choose between the two.

Overall, the novel is both beautifully written and covers topics of ethical morality, judgement and justice through a very present issue and topic. By the end of the novel, Shamsie includes poetry and novel articles and headlines as a narrative to the story which not only made the novel more interesting to read, but also extended the point as to how relevant the story is today. Shamsie successfully applies the story of Antigone to the novel, carrying through the main question of justice in many different ways throughout.

Links to a few articles I found really interesting:

Article about dual citizenship:

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