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text 2017-09-13 03:41
Thoughts on the Eve of the 2017 Man Booker Shortlist
Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie
Exit West - Mohsin Hamid
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry
Autumn: A Novel - Ali Smith
The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead
Solar Bones - Mike McCormack
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

The Man Booker Prize shortlist announcement is hours away and I've been working hard to read my way through the list. Despite my best intentions, I was only able to completely read seven of this year's nominees as well as three others in part. That leaves three novels that are at this point a complete mystery to me, so I cannot speak on them. Here are some thoughts on who might make the list tomorrow.

I think Home Fire, Exit West, and Days Without End are the three strongest contenders from the ten I've read. I will be surprised if these three do not make the shortlist. I'll be really surprised if none of the three do.

Personally, I didn't enjoy The Underground Railroad much, but I think it also stands a good chance of being shortlisted. I'll be annoyed if wins the Prize given how much attention it has garnered this year, but a shortlist nomination would be accepted.

Rounding out the list is difficult. Autumn and Solar Bones are possible contenders.

I'd love to see History of Wolves on the list as it has been a personal favorite, so far. I know many readers had a very different reaction to this novel, however, so it's a long shot to make the list. (And it has zero chance of winning the Prize.)

If I had to put money on six and only six titles, they'd be
1. Home Fire
2. Days Without End
3. Exit West
4. The Underground Railroad
5. Autumn

6. History of Wolves (anything's possible, right?)

Have you been reading the Man Booker nominees? Have any thoughts on who might be shortlisted?

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review 2017-09-03 11:10
A powerful, touching, and beautiful book for readers prepared to ask themselves the big questions.
Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an ARC of this novel that I freely chose to review.

When I read in the description of this novel that it was a contemporary version of Antigone, I was intrigued. If all Greek tragedies are powerful stories, I’ve always been inclined towards those that figure female characters at their centre, and by the moral questions they pose. The author explains, in a note at the end, that the project had started as a suggestion to write a modern adaption of the play for the stage but it had ended up as a novel. Her choices on adapting the original material make it, in my opinion, very apt to the current times, whilst at the same time preserving the eternal nature of its moral and ethical questions.

I don’t think I can improve on the description of the novel that I’ve shared above, but I thought I’d offer a few more details. The story, told in the third person, is divided into five parts, each one narrated by one of the main characters of the story. First, we have Isma Pasha, the oldest sister of a Pakistani-British family. When her mother died, she sacrificed herself for her twin sibling and left her studies to support them until they were old enough to choose their own paths. She is serious, studious, hard-working, and remembers a bit more than her siblings do what it was like when her father, a Jihadist who was never home, died on his way to Guantanamo Bay. The questions, the surveillance, the suspicions, the need to be ‘beyond reproof’… When her sister Aneeka, is about to start university, and her brother, Parvaiz, is pursuing a career in sound and media studies, she accepts an offer by one of her old professors to continue her studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts. She enjoys her quiet life there and meets a young man, Eamonn, whom she recognises as the son of an important UK politician, and one that had had some dealings with her family in the past. Although from very different social classes they share some things in common (they are both from London and they have Pakistani family, although Eamonn knows very little about that side of things). Their friendship never develops into anything deeper, but it brings hope and possibility to Isma’s life.

The next part is told by Eamonn, who intrigued by a photo he’d seen of Isma’ sister, tracks her down, and despite the secrecy surrounding their relationship, falls for her.

Parvaiz’s story is that of a young man brought up among women, who is very close to his twin-sister, Aneeka, but annoyed because the women in his life make decisions without him and he has no male role-model to guide him. A chance meeting with a man who tells him he knew his father ends up in his indoctrination and eventual joining of the Caliphate.

Aneeka’s chapters talk about her grief and her determination to do what she thinks is right, no matter the price or the consequences, both to herself and to those around her. When is love too much and how far would you go for your family?

Karamat Lone, the British Home Secretary, has the two final chapters. He is of Pakistani origin but has abandoned much of his culture and identity (including his religion and his way of life) and advocates assimilation and harsh punishment for those who don’t. Like for Aneeka, for him, there can be no compromise. He repeatedly chooses politics and his official life over his family and that has terrible consequences.

Shamsie has created multi-faceted characters, all distinctive and different in the way they feel, they see the world, and they relate to others. I found Parvaiz’s story particularly effective and touching, particularly as his decision might be the most difficult to understand for many readers. He loves sounds and the way he describes everything he hears is fascinating. The story of his indoctrination and the way he ends up trapped in a situation with no way out is hard to read but totally understandable. They choose him because he is a young man, vulnerable, looking for a father figure, and easy to manipulate. He makes a terrible mistake, but like the rest of the characters, he is neither totally good nor bad. They all keep secrets, in some cases to avoid others getting hurt, in others to try and save somebody or something. At times questions are not asked so as not to shatter an illusion, and at others, even the characters themselves no longer know what the truth is. The structure of the novel allows us to see the characters from their own perspective but they also appear in the stories of the others, and that gives us a better understanding of who they really are, how they appear to the rest of the people, and of the lies they tell themselves and others.

The novel deals with a number of relevant subjects, like terrorism and counter-terrorist measures, religion, ethnic and religious profiling, social media, surveillance and state-control, popular opinion and its manipulation by the media, politics, identity, family, love (many different kinds of love), ethics and morality. Although many of these topics are always at the centre of scholarly and popular debates, now they are more pressing than ever.

This is a beautiful book, lyrical at times, full of warmth and love (family love, romantic love, love for knowledge and tradition…), but also of fear and hatred. It is passionate and raw. We might not agree with the actions and opinions of some (or even all) the characters, but at a certain level, we get to understand them. We have fathers (and most of the men, although not Eamonn) prepared to sacrifice their families and their feelings for what they think is a higher and mightier good (country, religion, politics…). We have women trying to maintain the family ties and do what is right beyond creed, country lines, written laws, and paperwork. And a clash of two versions of family, identity, and survival condemned to never reaching an agreement.

I highlighted many lines of the text (and although always in the third person, the language and the expressions of the characters are very different in each segment), and some are very long (another writer not concerned about run-on sentences at times, although they serve very clear purposes), but I decided to share just a few examples:

Always these other Londons in London.

He was nearing a mosque and crossed the street to avoid it, then crossed back so as not to be seen as trying to avoid a mosque. (This is Eamonn walking around London).

She was the portrait to his father’s Dorian Gray —all the anxiety you’d expect him to feel was manifest in her. (Eamonn thinking about his mother).

Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them. (Aneeka thinking about her brother and about grief).

This was not grief. It was rage. It was his rage, the boy who allowed himself every emotion but rage, so it was the unfamiliar part of him, that was all he was allowing her now, it was all she had left of him. She held it to her breast, she fed it, she stroked its mane, she whispered love to it under the starless sky, and sharpened her teeth on its gleaming claws.

The human-rights campaign group Liberty issued a statement to say: ‘Removing the right to have rights is a new low. Washing our hands of potential terrorists is dangerously short-sighted and statelessness is a tool of despots, not of democrats.’

He looked like opportunity tasted like hope felt like love (Anika about Eamonn).

Working class or Millionaire, Muslim or Ex-Muslim, Proud-Son-of-Migrants or anti-Migrant, Moderniser or Traditionalist? Will the real Karamat Lone please stand up? (The newspapers talking about Karamat Lone, the Home Secretary).

Who would keep vigil over his dead body, who would hold his hand in his final moments? (Karamat thinking about his mother’s death and then his own).

This is a powerful book and a novel that made me see things from a different perspective. What happens to those left behind? We are used to hearing about the families of young men and women who leave them and their country of birth to join terrorist groups. We hear of their surprise at what has happened, they seem unable to react or understand how their son, daughter, sister, brother… has become somebody they no longer understand or know. But, what must life be like for them afterwards?

There are elements that might stretch the imagination but for me, they fit within the scope of the story (it is supposed to be a tragedy, after all) and the novel treads carefully between realism and dramatic effect.

A great novel that brings to life many issues that are sometimes ignored in the political and media discourses but that are fundamental if we want to reach a better understanding of the situation. A book for people who are looking for something more than a good story and a bit of entertainment, and are prepared to ask themselves some questions. Another author I had not read yet but whom I will eagerly follow from now on.

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review 2017-08-18 20:20
Powerful novel about current day issues of terrorism, immigration and multiculturalism!
Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie, author; Tania Rodrigues, narrator

When I turned the last page of the book I was struck dumb. I didn’t expect the ending, and I highly recommend that no one attempt to read the ending before they begin. Don’t peek, I implore you! The story plays out logically and clearly, and at the end, it will make the reader question his/her views on immigration, terrorism, Muslims, and also the government, with its regulations and its representatives with regard to all those issues. Most likely, the reader will bounce back and forth, for and against each idea as the story unfolds.

When it begins, the reader meets Isma Pasha, the caregiver of her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz; she is living in England. She is thoughtful and reserved, observes the ritual of prayer, though not five times a day, and wears a hijab, but is not extreme in her views. She is careful about how she expresses herself because of her father’s past. He was a known jihadist. When her twin siblings were orphaned, at age 12, she, almost 19, put her life on hold and stepped in to care for them. Now that they are 19, she would like to continue living her own life. When she is given the opportunity, by a former teacher, Dr. Hira Shah, to study at Amherst University, in Massachusetts, she grabs it. There she meets Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary in England, Karamat Lone. She becomes enamored with Eamonn, but it is unrequited love because Eamonn considers himself like her brother. However, he does become interested in her sister after seeing her photo. Aneeka is beautiful.

When Isma made her decision to leave Wembley for America, it portended great changes for the twins, but they seemed to take the news well, with Parvaiz showing a bit more concern about it. He did not want to move out of his home to live with his Aunty Naseem. Feeling more abandoned than his sister, who can already taste the greater freedom she will have, his personality begins to change. He becomes more secretive and reticent. He meets and becomes completely entranced by Farook who becomes a father figure of sorts as he twists Parvaiz’s mind into thinking that he too should leave Wembley, but not for the purpose of study like his sister. When Farook tells him that men should be in charge of women, Parvaiz likes the idea. He believes his life is suddenly coming apart due to the actions of his sisters. He is an innocent who is unsuccessful academically, under employed and very naïve; when Farook lionizes Adil Pasha, Parvaiz’s  father, for his jihadism, he is easily seduced. Farook convinces him to leave England for Syria and to join him in his fight for the Caliphate.

Aneeka wears a hijab and prays, is a free spirit and much more outgoing and modern than her quieter, modest sister. She seems quick to judge and is impulsive, expecting to get her way because of her beauty. When she learns that her sister has betrayed her brother, reporting him to the authorities, they become estranged. She becomes very involved with the same Eamonn her sister knew. Does she have an ulterior motive, or is it a true made in heaven romance? The twin’s relationship is very close, something I can completely understand. As a twin, I can relate to the special bond that exists, the special loyalty that embraces the siblings. Twins have a unique connection and the absence of one often makes the remaining one feel incomplete. I can identify with Aneeka’s unconditional devotion to Parvaiz.

At 19, Isma felt forced to make very different choices than her siblings did at the same age of 19, and as her mother did as a young woman when she married Adil Pasha who became a warrior for the Caliphate. Throughout the narrative, there is a thread about the travails of being “other” in a country. They are Asians of Pakistani origin; their skin color, religious practice and relationship to terrorism and terrorists affects their behavior everyday. They feel like outsiders. They have to be more careful than most, careful not to create suspicion by doing anything another would not even give a second thought. Their “Britishness” is questioned, as is their loyalty. Any relationship by anyone with a terrorist is scrutinized, recorded and monitored.  Although the twins never knew their father, since he left their mother before they were born, the stigma of his terrorism follows them also, and leaves its mark on them, their relatives and their future prospects. It vaguely reminded me of what happens in Israel when generations are punished for the behavior of one miscreant. Families become collateral damage. Is that necessary or just?

The book highlights the cycle of mistrust and violence that exists in this age of terrorism, in this age of Islamic extremism. America is perhaps, among other things, hated for its tactics in fighting the radicals, for its black op sites, for Guantanamo; Britain is perhaps despised for its welcoming of them and then its attempt to control them. Pakistan seems to encourage them by doing nothing to mitigate the extremism and may actually seem to be allowing it to fester. In the book, the feeling imparted is that the jihadists feel rejected and abused by their host countries. None of them seems to feel any remorse or take responsibility for their own brutality. They are defiant, feel they are justified in their fight and feel outrage about the way they are treated when they are caught. Those that might repent have no way back, no way to escape the heinous battle they have joined.

The cruel examples of radical Muslim behavior, like their treatment of women, even leaving them to die because they are uncovered and must wait for women to come to their rescue, or the practice of crucifixion, beheading, torture, and rape, are varied and many. It is hard to know, sometimes, on which side to come down regarding one’s sympathy in each specific instance, but the viciousness of the followers of this strict Koranic interpretation cannot but help sway the reader’s judgment in one direction or another. 

When the book begins, we witness the humiliation of Isma, because of her family history of terrorism, even though she is quite innocent. When it ends, we witness the result of the hard line responses to the problem of a hard line interpretation of a religious belief, and once again, we witness the suffering of those who are quite innocent because of a fear which is at times rational and at other times irrational, and  that promotes tragic results. Two parents make choices which will follow them for generations. There was the  Muslim family and the Christian family, the poor side of society and the wealthy side of society, the clash of cultures and beliefs that caused the apprehension, or perhaps panic, that may or may not have been justified at times; but the misunderstandings, by so many, l were pervasive all the time.

I enjoyed the audio but found that sometimes the narrator failed to delineate characters engaged in conversation. They sounded alike and it was difficult to determine who was speaking. Although this is a retelling of the Greek tragedy, the story of Antigone, by Sophocles, one does not have to know the classic to fully appreciate the novel.

There are many common threads and questions arising in the story that make for great discussion.

1-Aneeka easily seduces Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary. One has to wonder about her reasons. Are they selfish, matters of the heart, or perhaps even vengeance because of Isma’s part in the trouble Parvaiz now faces.

2-Meanwhile, when Parvaiz is seduced by Farook, what is it that makes him such easy prey?

3-Adil Pasha, the jihad, fought to establish the Caliphate. He was a devout Muslim. Did his folly infect his family into the future? What about the Home Secretary’s actions? “Were the sins of the father visited upon the sons?”

4-The Home Secretary renounced his Moslem religion to fit in. He believed “outsiders” should make themselves less different in order to be successful. Why did he believe it was necessary to do this?

5--Should Isma have been so thoroughly demoralized, scrutinized and humiliated at the airport because of family history when she tried to travel to America? She had not committed any crime, and her behavior was always exemplary. Where should the line be drawn between suspect and innocent victim?

6-Did personal animus play a part in every decision each character made? Was their intellect sidelined by the influence of their past and their conflicting emotions? 

7-Did continued stubborn adherence to rules without the ability to bend them when necessary bring about tragedy?

8-Each character made what they thought was a good choice, but it turned out otherwise. If we compare the choices of Isma, Aneeka, Parvaiz, Eamonn, Adil, and Karamat, are any of them appropriate and what makes them so?

9-If someone makes a terrible choice, as in jihadism, should there be no avenue for forgiveness when the error of that choice is recognized? Is there no hope for redemption, for forgiveness? Can that person ever be trusted again?

10-Was there one point in the narrative that foreshadowed the events or was the catalyst leading to all others?

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review 2015-06-23 01:10
A God in Every Stone, by Kamila Shamsie
A God in Every Stone - Kamila Shamsie

When the world is at war or a country is claiming its independence from an empire, what’s the point of digging up the ancient past? Current events keep overtaking Vivian Rose Spencer, Tahsin Bey, and Najeeb Gul as they search for a silver circlet belonging to a Carian explorer named Scylax. The circlet was a gift from Darius of Persia but was lost centuries ago when the Carians (who lived in what is now western Turkey) rebelled. Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone skips from Turkey in 1913 to Peshawar in 1919 and 1930. All three of the archaeologists are enamored of ancient history, to the point where they often grow oblivious to the increasingly dangerous world around them. In spite of warnings from well-meaning family members on all sides, the circlet might get Vivian and Najeeb killed purely by accident...

 

Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.

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review 2015-06-19 06:28
Review : Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie
Salt and Saffron - Kamila Shamsie

"Saffron is a luxury, but salt is a necessity, Aliya learns in this charming, witty exploration of class values." - Library Journal

 

"The utterly sensuous descriptions of food and tea are alone worth the price of admission." - Booklist

 

This is my first book that I've read by Kamila Shamsie. Salt and Saffron is a beautiful, interesting, and very well-written novel. I am eager to read Shamsie's other books.

 

*All I can remember is the names of mouth watering food* :D



The story revolves around Aliya; a Pakistani girl of an aristocratic family who becomes reacquainted with family members – first in London and then in Karachi. Aliya thinks of herself as a family historian and a storyteller. After spending four years of her life at university in America for her studies, she was unaware of so many secrets about her ancestors.

There are so many thoughts which were haunting Aliya's mind as the things went strange into the family; Why her cousin Mariam doesn't speak? Who are the not-quite- twins? The very peculiar thing is Aliya to some extent start believing herself as one of the not-quite twins.It is the not-quite twins who every time are the source of disaster and shame for the Dard-e-Dil. Aliya knew so little about the Partition of Indo-Pak which divided the family. Caste, family and social status comes in the way of Aliya's love.

Will she become a matter of shame to her family being a not-quite twin or not?

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