Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – a contemporary reworking of Sophocles

Natalie Haynes in The Guardian:

KamilaIn Sophocles’s play Antigone a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor) and religious law (the traitor is Antigone’s brother, Polynices, who has declared war on his city, and killed his own brother, Eteocles, along the way). Antigone’s “good” brother gets a funeral, the “bad” one is left to rot. Leaving a relative unburied is profoundly taboo in ancient Greece, so Antigone must decide: does she obey her conscience and bury Polynices – the punishment for which is the death penalty – or does she obey the law and leave her brother to be picked apart by dogs?

And this, essentially, is the dilemma faced by Aneeka, the beating heart of Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie’s Man Booker-longlisted loose contemporary reworking of Antigone. Her twin brother, Parvaiz, has left London to work for the media arm of Isis, after discovering that his absent father died en route to Guantánamo. Her sister Isma tells the police where he has gone and Aneeka is appalled: “You betrayed us, both of us. And then you tried to hide it from me. Don’t call, don’t text, don’t send the pictures, don’t fly across the ocean and expect me to ever agree to see your face again. We have no sister.” It is a beautifully Sophoclean touch that Aneeka is far angrier with her sister for betraying their brother than she is with her brother for betraying them both.

The build-up to disaster is told with an ever-increasing tension. We begin with Isma, the older sister to the twins, the voice of compromise and accommodation. Her wry cleverness is so compelling that it is difficult not to pine for her in the later stages of the novel, from which she is largely absent (Ismene, in Sophocles’s version of the myth, has only a paltry 60 lines). When Isma first meets Eamonn, the non-religious son of an authoritarian British home secretary who has sought to put his Muslim faith behind him, she is studying in the US and he is there on holiday. “Is that a style thing or a Muslim thing?” he asks, about the turban she wears. “You know,” she replies, “the only two people in Massachusetts who have ever asked me about it both wanted to know if it’s a style thing or a chemo thing.”

More here.