Review: Home Fire

***** (NO SPOILERS)

WHY I CHOSE IT: My friend Phoebe gave ‘Home Fire’ rave reviews so I borrowed it from her over the holidays. It was also recommended by a couple of #bookstagrammers at a recent meet up.

THE PLOT: ‘Home Fire’ is a retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone featuring a British Pakistani family. Three orphaned siblings: Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz, have a secret. They can’t tell anyone that their father was a jihadist who was killed on his way to Guantanamo. As British Muslims, they know that the UK Government is monitoring them in case they follow in their father’s footsteps. So, when Parvaiz becomes radicalized and travels to Syria to join Islamic State, his sister’s lives back in the West become even more difficult. Isma is desperate to demonstrate that she’s turned her back on her brother, while Aneeka wants to support and save him, so the family unit breaks down completely and events spiral out of control.

MY RATING: This is a fantastic novel and I would urge you to read it. Go on, read it now! It completely deserves five stars for taking a well-known concept and reworking it in a modern context. The Antigone has been interpreted in so many ways throughout history and I’ve even written my own short story based on the concept, but this was a completely fresh take on one of my favourite ancient plays.

The plot ties together nicely, with interesting twists and turns. I was enthralled by Parvaiz’s time with ISIS and particularly surprised by the ending. As it features multiple POVs, with the narrative progressing through the eyes of each of the siblings, the plot is given space to develop in line with the characterization of each of the protagonists. This is a successful structure because it doesn’t return to each characters’ POV after their section is complete, which prevents repetition.

The characters were deep, each with complex motivations and attitudes which made their psychology very interesting. The primary antagonist is a British Pakistani Home Secretary who has turned his back on Islam and is pursuing integration at the expense of religious freedom. This character embodies the figure of Creon, the ruler in Sophocles’ Antigone, who represents the power of human/civil law, which is at odds with religious law. This allows the author to ask whether it’s possible to be a Muslim and British in today’s society, particularly when the state wants to crackdown on religious extremism and expression.

Although the novel centres on the conflict between religious piety, civil law and family duty, I felt the whole novel hinged on the question of right and wrong. It harked back to the Sophoclean original, asking how can you know what’s right and wrong when beset with the contrasting obligations of moral ideals and familial love. And, importantly, what’s the difference between state protection and state oppression?

FAVOURITE QUOTE: “For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition.”