June 2019 Open Book Group – Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Thank you to Trish for moderating by Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.

Home Fire addresses a very contemporary problem – the radicalisation of young men, disaffected with their lives in first world countries, going overseas to fight for terrorist groups such as ISIS. 19-year-old British born, but ethically Pakistani, Parvaiz Pasha is the young man in question in this novel. His father is a renowned terrorist, Adil Pasha, who fought in Bosnia and died on the way to Guantanamo Bay. His mother also died when Parvaiz and his twin Aneeka were six. They were bought up by their older sister, Isma.

Parvaiz life is in transition. His sisters are moving on with our theirs and his home is being disbanded. Isma is moving to the US to embark on a PhD, Aneeka has a scholarship and student accommodation at the LSE. While Parvaiz is academically less gifted he is a self-taught sound engineer and dreams of using his recording in online games. His ambitions are not understood or appreciated by his sisters.

Charismatic Farooq, an ISIS recruiter, provides the father figure Parvaiz never had. Farooq has little difficulty encouraging him to emulate his father as a jihad fighter in Syria. He paints Parvaiz a picture of the glory that awaits him building a new society founded on Shari law. However, once in Raqqa Farooq abandons him.  ISIS Commanders value his sound engineering skills asking him to record a beheading.  Horrified he realises the dream he was sold has turned into a nightmare. He escapes to Turkey and is on his way to the British embassy, to request repatriation, he is killed. We presume by ISIS.

The Home Secretary, a Muslim, Karamat Lone has revoked Parvaiz’s British passport so his body is returned to Pakistan. Distraught Aneeka goes there seeking to bring him back to Britain. The ending, when it comes, was never going to be a happy one.

Each chapter of the novel recounts how Pavaiz’s actions have affected the lives of the different protagonists; Isma, Parvaiz, Aneeka, Karamat Lone, and his son, Eamonn Lone, Aneeka’s lover.

Shamsie credited the tragedy Antigone by Sophocles as a source, though members familiar with the play felt the connection was tenuous.

The discussion opened with Parvaiz’s radicalisation. The majority felt that the circumstances making Parvaiz vulnerable, were well described and one could have empathy with how he was drawn in by Farooq. One member cut through the general view. She argued Shamsie had taken the easy route and had not addressed the harder, more confronting, reality. Most young fighters are radicalised by hard-line clerics at their local mosques. Curtis Cheng’s murder by15-year-old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar is a case in point.  As we reflected the mood in the room changed. We agreed such a plot treatment would have been interesting.

Moving on to Isma, one member expressed surprise that she should be interrogated so formally at the airport. However, given the authorities knew who was her father was, and her brother’s defection, Isma was targeted because of her family connections, regardless of her innocence. Another member, a frequent visitor to America, recounted how she had been similarly interrogated just because she had a Syrian stamp in her passport. Our attention was drawn to a simple sentence, easily overlooked, that Isma had finally been helped to get a ticket to board a later plane by a Muslim client service assistant.

e considered Aneeka’s reaction to her brother’s betrayal. As a 19-year-old Muslim woman, some were surprised that her sexuality would have been so unrepressed. However, others were not shocked given she too had had to grow up very fast with no parental constraints. Relationships in the modern world are more fluid (or so our grandchildren reliably inform us). It was plausible that Aneeka would target Eamonn with a torrid love affair in the hope she could influence him to approach his father to repatriate Parvaiz.

Karamat Loan strongly advocated that his Community needed to assimilate and not isolate themselves within their heritage. Australia has always prided itself as one of the most successful multicultural society is in the world, but we are struggling, like all countries, to get the balance right between allowing cultural expression and creating a homogenous society. No one has any answers to this and OBG could not help either. Our current political dilemma of what to do with the children of Australian ISIS widows suffering terrible hardship refugee camps was raised. We were clear that these children are Australian citizens and should be bought home and rehabilitated here. The position of children Australian widows have had with other foreign fighters is less clear. An appalling human tragedy.

Finally, to Eamonn. We discussed his relationship with his father and how strong the universal need is for fraternal approval. In fact, one member summarised the book as being one of the relationships between fathers and sons. Parvaiz trying to emulate his terrorist father and Eamonn and Karamat trying to find some common ground, ultimately failing.

The ending was generally accepted, though it surprised many.

Given the book’s literary structure, a member pointed out that she could see a miniseries coming on. Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap was referenced.

Trish noted that Home Fire was listed in the 2017 Man Booker long list. Last month’s OBG novel Autumn by Ali Smith had been shortlisted, and the book we read this time last year, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, won. Smith and Saunder’s writing styles did divide OBGers. However, with Home Fire’s well strong plot and well-written characterisation, there was unanimous agreement Shamsie had produced a turn paging novel, full of contemporary conundrums, we all enjoyed reading.

Gerry was inspired to write a piercing Haiku.

fate decrees that our 

faults will lead us to our end 

total disaster

Gillian O’Mulloy.

Leave a Reply