Heaven: May Book Group - Home Fire

SarasaSarasa Shipmate
edited January 16 in Limbo
The SOF's book for this month is Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. It's an interesting read (I'm aout a third of the way through so far) specailly for British readers as one of the plot strands revolves round the appointment of a Muslim Home Secretary.
There will be some questions on or about the 20th.

Comments

  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Thanks for opening the thread, Sarasa! I was fascinated with this book when I read it, partly because I teach Antigone every year and had not thought it was a story possible to translate into a modern setting. Then I read this book and it impressed me not just as its own story but because of the parallels to the play. You don't have to have ever read or seen Antigone to appreciate Home Fire -- it stands alone as a work of fiction -- but if you have, it will definitely add an additional layer of interest to this novel.

    I'll post questions on the 20th, which is Sunday of the long weekend for me for will be a good time to start discussion. Who else is in?
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I don't know Antigone, and am not going to find out more until I finish the book and then see if it makes a difference to how I feel about it.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    edited May 2018
    Yes, if you haven't read Antigone I would not recommend looking up the plot of it while you're in the midst of this book, but you'll find it interesting to do so afterwards.

    Anyone else reading it besides Sarasa and me?
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Sadly, I won't be able to join in because I can't find a copy of this. My local library tried to get it through interlibrary loan but it is new-ish and so on request at the central library. I studied Jean Anouilh's Antigone at school and university, am hoping to hear more about correspondences and analogies by reading the thread.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Not me this time, I'm afraid - swamped with proofs!
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    Nor me - things are a bit full on for the next few weeks. Currently trying to source a copy of "The Shoes of the Fisherman" for later in the year.
  • It sounds fascinating, but I haven't been great at reading anything other than dross for the last few months.
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    Yes, I'm in. I'm about halfway through at the moment, and enjoying it.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    edited May 2018
    Good, at least we'll have a few of us -- it's not a long read, if anyone's thinking of jumping in at this point (assuming you can get hold of a copy).
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    Just finished it. I'm
    Looking forward to the discussion as I have quite a few things I'd like to discuss.


  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Hi all -- it looks like only a handful of us have had time to find and read this book, so rather than post a detailed list of questions as I might do for a larger group discussion, I'll just throw it open and ask what Sarasa, Marama, and anyone else who might have gotten a chance to read it, thought about it. What did you like or not like? What struck you most about it? Any aspects of it you'd particularly like to discuss?

    I've already said that while I think it works well as a stand-alone novel, what intrigued me most was the idea of modernizing Antigone, because I would have thought the most difficult thing about putting that play in a modern setting is the idea of a family under a generational curse by the gods. But as soon as I started reading Home Fire, I thought, "Oh yes, being a Muslim immigrant family with a family member who left to fight for a jihadi terrorist group is EXACTLY the modern equivalent of that -- no-one in the family can ever completely get free from the shadow that that casts over the family." We are so used to thinking in the Western world that we are judged entirely as individuals and that a "family curse" is an ancient and hokey idea -- but if you are part of a minority or marginalized group, there is this sense that not only within your immediate family, but within the whole community, you can all be judged by the actions of one person, so there is a sense in which the curse on Oedipus's family has its parallel in the modern world.

    I have more thoughts on this but will wait to hear what others say!
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    As I said up thread I don't know Antigone, so I read this without any reference to that work. I did think that maybe Shamsie was trying to shoehorn her story to fit the plot of Antigone, as I don't think it worked as a complete story and several bits, Aneeka's seduction of Eamonn for instance didn't convice me. Parvaiz's grooming to becoming a ISIS fighter did, and that part of the story was I though the strongest. He was also the only charatcer that I felt any sympathy for, the rest didn't engage me very much and the home secretary I didn't find convincing at all, though his attitude towards other muslims was plausible.
    All that sounds like I didn't enjoy the story, I did, but I don't think it was written in a style that I particularly enjoy.
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    I had largely forgotten the story of Antigone, although in the dim and distant past I did backstage for a school production of the Anouilh play - not a role that has you concentrating on the finer points of plot as opposed to lights, props and costumes.

    So I looked it up after finishing the book and was surprised by how well Shamsie had modernised it. Most parallels fitted well, I thought; as Trudy notes, terrorism does lead to a generational curse. Aneeka's vigil with Parvaiz' body is melodramatic - but I guess the original is too. Overall I enjoyed Home Fire; I found it a good insight into radicalisation, the realities (I assume) of being Muslim in Britain today, and while the characters weren't all likeable (though I felt for Isma) they were mostly believable.

    I'd be interested to hear how your new Muslim Home Secretary is going - must be better that our highly authoritarian Queensland ex-cop!
  • Marama wrote: »
    I'd be interested to hear how your new Muslim Home Secretary is going - must be better that our highly authoritarian Queensland ex-cop!

    For completeness, it should be noted that the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP, does not have any religious faith. In that sense, he is not a Muslim. He does, though, come from a Muslim background. So I suppose that makes him Muslim in the sense that your average white Briton is Christian.

    Baroness Warsi is, as I understand it, a practicing Muslim, and so would be the most senior practicing Muslim in government. The mayor of London, the Rt. Hon. Sadiq Khan, is also a practicing Muslim.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    For completeness, it should be noted that the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP, does not have any religious faith. In that sense, he is not a Muslim. He does, though, come from a Muslim background. So I suppose that makes him Muslim in the sense that your average white Briton is Christian.

    Being over here in Canada, I had never heard of Sajid Javid -- but he's a Conservative politician serving as Home Secretary, from a Muslim background but not practicing, married to a woman with a very Anglo-sounding name ... he sounds (superficially at least), a LOT like Karamat Lone in the novel. I thought Karamat was an interesting character (well, I found them all interesting; it's why I liked the book) as a man from a Muslim Pakistani background who urges other Muslims to assimilate. While he's not an absolute dictator like Creon in Sophocles' Antigone, his insistence on loyalty to your country (the one you're living in, not the one you were born in or your family came from) above any other loyalty, is a good parallel for Creon's "The State must be obeyed" attitude in the play.

  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    I should also say that when I say I'm very familiar with Antigone, I mean the Sophocles play, not the Jean Anoilh play, which I've never read or seen, but am now curious about.
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    What did people feel about the structure of the book, concentrating on one character at a time? There's no first person narrative, but the point of view is pretty focused.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    I had a problem with it only in the fact that when we moved on from one character's point of view, we never went back to it. I like alternating points of view but I like them best if we get short chapters where we alternate around and get to check back in with different characters. In this case, I identified really strongly with Isma in the opening section of the book, and was disappointed she was so absent for most of the rest of it. (The Guardian review of the book makes the same point: "[Isma's] 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." The reviewer makes the point that this is also true of Isemene in the play -- not that she's particularly wry or clever, but that she has a very small role).

    So I liked getting to see the story from each character's perspective, but I wished we had gotten to go back and revisit some of the earlier characters.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    It felt to me as though there were five or six possible novels all jammed into one. It also felt as though things happened in an arbiarty way to move the plot along rather than growing out of the situation as presented. I guess that might be the idea of the gods playing with mortals, but I know sod all about Greek tragedy so really can't comment.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    I wonder if that sense that things are happening arbitrarily does grow out of the fact that it's a re-telling of Antigone? If it feels that way to someone who doesn't know the play, then it means the novel is not as successful as I thought it was, because I believe a re-telling of a classic story should also be able to stand on it own, as an independent novel even if you didn't know the source. Once I realized how closely she was sticking to the play in writing it, I knew it would end up with Eamonn and Aneeka both dead, because Haemon and Antigone both die in the play. But the things that happen also ought to feel organic to the novel, and perhaps they don't.

    Has anyone here read any of the Hogarth Shakespeare re-tellings? I've had a few, particularly Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed (which is a re-telling of The Tempest) recommended to me, but the only one I've read is Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, based on The Taming of the Shrew. I love Anne Tyler's writing, but in this book I felt the debt to the play heavily, and kept thinking that there's no logical reason the characters would be acting the way they are in the modern setting if it weren't for the need to echo the plot of the play. I guess for some readers Home Fire might feel that way too, for the same reason.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    As someone who hasn't read the 'book of the month' this time but who is planning his own take on the Antigone theme, can I ask if it's gone very far beyond the basic driver of the Antigone plot?

    I see this as being a warning that mortals are inevitably crushed when caught between the law as enforced by human rulers on the one hand and by gods on the other. Or is that a total misreading?
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I've read both Hag-Seed and Vinegar Girl in the Hogarth series as well as McEwan's Nutshell, based on Hamlet. I only know the vaguest outlines of the plots of The Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest, but enjoyed both books. The Atwood I must re-read as it was a book that stands up in its own right. The Tyler was fun, I too love her writing, but I don't think I'd bother to re-read that. I do know Hamlet very well and I hated the McEwan, but then I don't like any of his books that much. The conceit, the story narrated by a foetus, didn't really work in my opinion.
    Andras wrote: »
    As someone who hasn't read the 'book of the month' this time but who is planning his own take on the Antigone theme, can I ask if it's gone very far beyond the basic driver of the Antigone plot?

    I see this as being a warning that mortals are inevitably crushed when caught between the law as enforced by human rulers on the one hand and by gods on the other. Or is that a total misreading?
    I think it would have been a more satisfying book if Shamsie had kept that idea in mind rather than trying to replciate the plot of Antigone.

  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    The Ship's book group read Howard Jacobson's My Name is Shylock ( the Hogarth retelling of The Merchant of Venice) in 2016, and as far as I remember no-one was very impressed - I certainly wasn't. But I've since read Vinegar Girl and thought it was much better; it worked in making Katherine believable and sympathetic, more so than the play. I haven't read the Atwood yet.

    There seem to be number of real pitfalls in retelling classic in new clothes. It's not just a matter of finding plausible modern settings; you also need to find issues, questions and themes that matter to modern readers - and that is harder than it seems. I enjoyed this month's book more than most of the group, it seems, but I can see where the critiques are coming from
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