book cover for novel Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

This is a story of family and love told from the perspective of several characters. Home Fire is a literary fiction novel by Kamila Shamsie. It explores themes of religion, identity, politics, and the immigrant experience.

The main characters are three siblings, Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz. As British-Pakistani Muslims in contemporary London, they have to navigate their identity and relationships. The novel explores their relationship and shows how the past impacts the present.

The book starts with Isma, who misses one flight as the police interrogate her as she tries to go to Boston from London to pursue her Ph.D. We know there is more to the story, and the author slowly reveals the details to us as she takes us back and forth in time.

spoilers ahead

Three Close-Knit Siblings

Isma is the oldest of three siblings. After her father left and her mother passed away, she became the parent to her twin siblings, the twelve-year-old Parvaiz and Aneeka.

When Isma’s former tutor invites her to apply to study in the US, she thinks it’s unlikely that her visa will be approved, but she tries anyway. To her family’s surprise, she receives the visa. Aneeka, who is studying law with a scholarship, insists that Isma must take the opportunity. Parvaiz resists the changes to his family, worried that he will lose his sisters and be alone.

Parvaiz is Seduced

During this period of conflict, Parvaiz meets a new friend, Farooq. Over several weeks, Farooq grooms him, preying on his need for a father figure and his insecurities to recruit him to ISIS in Raqaa. He spends more and more time with Farooq and becomes secretive toward his sister. They think that BJ’s change in behavior is due to him falling in love or having problems with his love life.

Parvaiz is interested in making music, an interest that his sisters do not consider a viable course of study or career. Farooq presents Raqaa as a utopia and skillfully convinces Parvaiz that he will be able to reach his dreams if he moves there.

Parvaiz pretends to his sisters that he is going to visit his extended family in Pakistan, but he does not transfer in Instanbul. Instead, he heads to Syria.

Dealing with the Fallout

Back in London, Parvaiz’s sisters find out the truth from Farooq’s cousin. By the time Parvaiz calls them from Raqaa, they already know where he is. The police have also been alerted. We later find out that Isma is the one who alerted them, worried for herself and Aneeka. Her family was already suspect because her father was a captured terrorist who died in custody. This explains the worries that Isma would not be able to get a visa for the US, and the extended interrogation on departure.

Before Isma leaves London, they sell the family home and Aneeka moves in with their friend and neighbor, Aunty Naseem. Aneeka and Isma are very close, and they speak every day. When Aneeka finds out months later that Isma was the one to report Parvaiz, she stops speaking to Isma.

Life in Boston

In Boston, Isma meets Eamonn Love. His father is a famous politician in London, Karamat Love, a former Muslim of Pakistani origins. He started off his career with support from the Muslim community, but they no longer support him since he speaks out against Islamic practices. That puts him at odds with Isma’s family.

Eamonn doesn’t work, having quit his job to take some time “to live life”. He and Isma get into a routine of hanging out together in a coffee shop. When Ramon’s gather becomes Home Secretary, Eamonn learns from Isma of her disdain for his father. This breaks their friendship, but Isma decides to call him so that they could meet.

When Eamonn comes over, she explains her animosity towards his father. She tells him about her father’s history as a jihadist and the family’s attempt to get information about him after he died on his way to Guantánamo. A family friend went to Karamat for help in getting information. Kamarat’s response was, “they’re better off without him”.

Isma has feelings for Eamonn, but she doesn’t reveal them. They part as possible friends but do not keep in touch with each other. As Eamonn leaves the apartment, he offers to take a package of M&Ms to her aunt on his impending return to London.

Eamon Meets Aneeka

In London, Eamonn goes to Aunt Naseems’s on Preston Street to personally deliver the package rather than posting it as he’d intended. Misunderstanding the relationship between him and Isma, the aunt welcomes him and feeds him. When Anneka gets home, she puts on her hijab before meeting Eamonn.

When Eamonn states his full name, it’s clear who he is. His father had visited Preston Street often in the past, taking Eamonn with him as a child, until Eamonn chose to remain with his mother at home during those visits to a foreign environment.

Aneeka follows Eamonn onto his train and goes home with him. This begins a secret affair between the two of them. Aneeka would show up as she wished, Eamonn stayed home more and more in case she came over. Eventually, she shares her schedule with him, and he could tell what times she would arrive. When he proposes to her, she tells him her secret.

Aneeka tells Eamonn about her brother, that he wants to come home from Syria. She wants Eamonn to intercede with his father so that her brother can come home. This causes a big row with Eamonn wondering if that’s why she followed him onto the train and if she really loves him. He leaves the apartment in anger, but then calms down and decides that their love is real, and he will help her. He goes to his father for help.

Mr. Home Secretary

One of his key actions as Home Secretary was to add a clause to a Bill to allow the country to strip any citizen of their British citizenship for actions against British interests. This included those who left to fight with ISIS. He considered Eamonn weak and concluded that he had been brainwashed by Aneeka.

It’s no Utopia

While Aneeka was trying to get Parvaiz safe passage home, Parvaiz got a chance to escape. Raqaa had not been what he expected from the moment he arrived and saw the heads on spikes. He also didn’t have the stomach for the work he had to do in the media department of ISIS. Music was his passion and he thought he’d be able to pursue that. He believed in the utopian image sold by Farooq.

After he arrived in Syria, he used a check-in system with his twin that they had devised earlier in their life, just sending the message checking in. When he first called her, he initially pretended everything was okay. In a subsequent call, he admitted that he wanted to leave Raqaa and returned home. That’s when she hatched the plan to get Eamonn’s help.

Ironically, Farooq was the means of Parvaiz’s escape. When Farooq came to visit one day, he mentioned he was on his way to Istanbul after fighting on the front. Parvaiz’s boss sent him along to pick up some equipment.

In Istanbul, Farooq walked off while Parvaiz purchased the equipment. Parvaiz added in a phone and ran. He hid in Istanbul while waiting for news from Aneeka. She planned to meet him there, but as she continued to hear nothing from Eamonn, she advised Parvaiz to do to the British high consulate, and she would meet him there.

As Aneeka tried to leave London for Istanbul, the authorities confiscated her British passport. Meanwhile, as Parvaiz went to the consulate, he was shot outside its gates by Farooq.

Death, Grief, Justice

One of Farooq’s cousins brought the family the news of Parvaiz’s death.

Isma flew home. As the family grieved, a political struggle ensued. The home secretary released an official statement about how Aneeka tried to use his son to help her terrorist brother, portraying her in the worst possible light. Journalists besieged both families. Eamonn escaped to hide out at his ex-girlfriend’s property.

Isma and Aneeka could not agree on what to do next. Aneeka did not think Isma had done enough to help their brother. Isma cut him off once he left. Aneeka told Isma that she had used Eamonn and wondered why Isma hadn’t tried the same thing when they were friends. Aneeka insisted that her brother be brought back to London. She wanted to bury him beside his mother, even though the Home Secretary would not allow it, having stripped Eamonn of his British citizenship. The Pakistan consular authorities distanced themselves from Britain and accepted that Parvaiz could be flown to Pakistan for burial.

Aneeka hatched her own plan. She bought a ticket to Pakistan and got a Pakistani passport to go there “to find justice”. Once there, despite the anger of her cousins who wanted nothing to do with the situation, she arranged for her brother’s body to be brought to her at a park opposite the British embassy.

Grieving A Twin

Using her weight and hands, Aneeka breaks the coffin apart, and the dust storm that blows in as the coffin is delivered lends assistance. She keeps her twin’s body covered except for his head and touches her face while she wails her grief. Newscasters and spectators stand by, and the scene is broadcasted around the world.

The largest manufacturer of ice in the country provides ice for free and the spectators help build a pyramid of ice around the body. Aneeka addresses the Home secretary, but all it does is convince him of her immaturity.

Over several days, Aneeka remains in place, maintaining her vigil with her brother.

Meanwhile in London

Meanwhile, in London, Isma goes to the Home Secretary to ask for permission to go to Pakistan without jeopardizing her British citizenship. They have a civil conversation and in the end, he tells her to do what she wants.

The situation escalates quickly. Eamonn releases a video attacking his father and calling Aneeka his fiancé. He states that he is going to go to Pakistan to be with her. The home secretary decides to do nothing about the video and keeps it from his wife. His wife was already mad enough at him and his decisions.

That same day, when Karamat goes home because his wife has summoned him to talk to her, he finds his daughter has come to town to talk about the situation as well. While he and his wife are speaking, security bustles in because there is a threat against him and his family. He, his wife, and his daughter hunker down in their panic room. In conversation with his wife, he begins to realize the dangers and wrong-mindedness of some of his policies.

Before the Home Secretary could do anything about his new thoughts once he can leave the panic room, the threat was revealed to have been a hoax, and Iman arrived in Pakistan.

How Home Fire Ends

As Eamonn goes to meet Anika, two men approach and as one of them embraces him, the other slips a suicide belt around his waist.

The reporters and everyone else move away, but Aneeka runs to Eamonn. He tries to get her to keep back, but she ignores him. She embraces him and for a moment, they get a chance to whisper words to each other.

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