Book Review

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie


Home Fire blew me away.  The instant I finished its explosive ending, I wanted to write a review saying this, but decided to let my feelings simmer.  Time changed nothing.  Several weeks later, I’m as appreciative as ever.  Home Fire is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long, long time.

With overtones of a Greek tragedy, Home Fire tells of the three children of a dead jihadist – the emotional burdens they bear at British Pakistanis, and the extremes to which they go for the love of their father and for each other.  Entwined with their stories is that of the son of a British Home Secretary, a lapsed Muslim whose approach to jihadists and their kin is rigid.

I was drawn in at the very opening of the book, when the oldest of those three children, heading for a post-graduate program of study in America, is detained in the airport and questioned so long that she misses her flight. Her mindset during the interrogation, what she puts up with as she holds her tongue, is heartrending.

Home Fire is not first and foremost a political book.  Mostly it is about family – about fathers and sons, about narrow-mindedness.

The author is unbelievably skilled, her writing lyrical without being obtrusive.  And the narrator of the Audible edition to which I listened?  Perfect.  She captured each of the characters as I would have imagined that character to be.

My book group is discussing Home Fire at our next meeting.  Of the many discussion points, there is the intersection of politics and family, the responsibility of a parent, and the making of a terrorist.  I hope we discuss question like how much sympathy we should or should not have for the child of a terrorist.  What are the pros and cons of a zero tolerance policy?  What kind of people are we if we turn away from those who cry for help after making a mistake?  Is it possible to rehabilitate a jihadist?

Finally, there’s this:  Should the leader of country be flexible and recognize when his personal animus is affecting his policy?  This question is front and center in Home Fire, just as it resonates between the lines of newspapers in America today.


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