Literature Thoughts · Reviews

Modern Antigone: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

“Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them.”  –Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie,

“Go then if you must, but remember, no matter how foolish your deeds, those who love you will love you still.” Antigone by Sophocles

I first read Antigone while in High School. While it felt like one of those classic pieces that goes way over most people’s heads, but the themes become relevant in a world where our loyalties to the state are questioned. Home Fire brings the tale of family and loyalty into a modern light. Antigone is portrayed by Aneeka, the daughter of a terrorist who has found a safe haven in London. Her brother Parvaiz radicalizes, joining ISIS, and the well-known story ensues.

This will not be a spoiler free review, as I am comparing and contrasting two pieces of literature.

Antigone Goodreads Synposis: The curse placed on Oedipus lingers and haunts a younger generation in this new and brilliant translation of Sophocles’ classic drama. The daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Antigone is an unconventional heroine who pits her beliefs against the King of Thebes in a bloody test of wills that leaves few unharmed. Emotions fly as she challenges the king for the right to bury her own brother. Determined but doomed, Antigone shows her inner strength throughout the play.

Antigone raises issues of law and morality that are just as relevant today as they were more than two thousand years ago. Whether this is your first reading or your twentieth, Antigone will move you as few pieces of literature can.

Home Fire Goodreads Synopsis: Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Similarities: As in most retellings, Home Fire gives a classic character by character comparison to Antigone. Isma is the Ismene, not willing to go as far as her sister, but still fighting for her family.  Aneeka (Antigone) is passionate and loyal to a fault, willing to do whatever it takes to bring her brother home.  Parvaiz is lost in his ways, both trying to separate himself from the image of his father (Oedipus) and join himself to it in order to know the man. Haemon (Eamonn) is willing to let go of any ties to his father, a powerful political figure, the Creon of Home Fire, for the woman he loves, much like his suicide upon seeing Antigone’s suicide in the Greek play. The comparison plays out in the modern world of terrorism and fueled political climate. It makes the themes of Antigone painfully relevant, bridging the gap of loyalty for those we love and the country that we live in.

Differences: Aneeka and Eamonn’s relationship is originally based on the fact that she wants his father to help her bring her brother back from ISIS. Much of the book focuses on this relationship, more than Anitgone.  The question of whether or not Aneeka’s affection for Eamonn is true is a central theme, which allows the reader to consider the complexity of human relationships. I went back in forth as to Eteocles might be, but I don’t think he appears in this retelling.

The first scene of this book is Isma being stopped in an airport, simply because of her ethnicity. It is a scene of modern era xenophobia and terror. It is what originally drew me into this book. Shamsie makes Antigone sting, and because it stings, it makes us rethink the way we talk about terrorism.

Is this book of your to-read list? How do you feel about retellings? Where should our loyalties lie when it comes to family and country?


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