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Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire: A modern retelling of a popular Greek mythology classic

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a modern reworking of the Greek classic, Antigone, by Sophocles, and is based in London.

books Updated: Aug 21, 2017 16:52 IST
Lakshana Palat
Lakshana Palat
Hindustan Times
Kamila Shamsie,Man Booker Longlist,Greek Mythology
All of author Kamila Shamsie’s books have a touch of mythology. (Zain Mustafa)

Characters with numerous grey shades, torn loyalties, and a touch of Greek mythology — that’s what you’ll find in Kamala Shamsie’s latest book, Home Fire. Shamsie, who is on the Man Booker Prize longlist, shares how these ideas came to her. “It all started with a play. A theatre director who is a friend of mine, asked to meet. He wanted to adapt the play, Antigone, by Sophocles, and wanted me to help write the script. I started thinking of ways that I could make it into a novel. My story is essentially reworking of Antigone. I wanted to expand the characters, and show women defying rules of state, in a modern era, situated in London,” explains Shamsie, who has always had a love for Greek classics, and all her books have a touch of mythology.

Cover of the book.

In the play Antigone, the protagonist 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). This is the dilemma of Aneeka in Home Fire, whose twin brother, Parvaiz, has left London to work for a terrorist group, to uncover the story of what has happened to his father. “I’m wary about using the term Jihadi. My intention was to depict the choices of these men, who are indoctrinated into such groups. It’s about the terrible choices they make and why,” says Shamsie.

So how come she wanted to write her story in London? “The ideas that came to me were all London-centered. I have lived here now for several years, maybe that’s why,” she says with a laugh. “My earlier novels were based in Karachi.”

Home Fire is filled with strong and fiery female characters, and it appears to be a fitting testament to the present times of women empowerment. Is that how she intended it? “A writer doesn’t intend to create role models. I wanted to write complex characters, with shades of grey — be it strong or weak, something which people relate to. Nobody exists in black and white. And that’s our job as writers, to create such people,” she says.

The title itself is enough to grab one’s attention. Shamsie explains why she chose such a thought-provoking one. “There could be several interpretations of this title. Fire means a sense of urgency and danger. The Home Fire could refer to the home being in flames…or the country being in danger, owing to terrible decisions. However, fire also refers to the warmth of a fireplace, which means a comfortable home. A home fire could also mean a warm welcome — indicating love and closeness,” she says.

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 21:16 IST