“Home Fire” is a 21st century tragedy. The novel speaks to the unintended consequences of intolerance, isolation, extremism, radicalization and bigotry. Many months ago I reviewed the memoir “They Told Me to Come Alone.” Home Fire seems to me to be the fictional companion to Souad Mekhennet’s memoir.
Home Fire focuses on the Muslim Pasha family of London and the political Lone family, also of London. The story begins with Isma Pasha’s detention at Heathrow airport as she is attempting to make her way to Amherst Massachusetts where she has a scholarship in a PhD program in sociology. “Isma was going to miss her flight. The ticket wouldn’t be refunded, because the airline took no responsibility for passengers who arrived at the airport three hours ahead of departure time and were escorted to an interrogation room.”
Isma and her sister, Aneeka, had practiced interrogation responses in anticipation of Isma’s trip. Aneeka, 9 years younger than Isma, was studying law at a university in London. While in detention at Heathrow, Isma mused that Aneeka, not quite 19 years old, “knew everything about her rights and nothing about the fragility of her place in the world.” This truth about her sister brings about the most compelling pieces of the story.
Aneeka has a twin brother, Parvaiz, to whom she is extremely close. The family’s absent father was a terrorist who died being taken to Guantanamo. The family rarely acknowledges his identity or existence. Aneeka, Parvaiz and Isma’s mother and grandmother died when the twins were twelve years old and Isma, with the help of Aunty Naseem, raised the twins.
Isma ultimately makes it to Massachusetts and while in Amherst, she meets a fellow Londoner, Eamonn Lone, son of a formerly Muslim father and Irish American mother. Eamonn’s father happens to be a well-known British politician and after the two meet, his father, Karamat Lone, becomes Home Secretary.
Parvaiz is directionless and becomes a target of terrorist recruiters. The methods of manipulation used to recruit him are heart wrenching. The main recruiter, Farooq, plays on all of Parvaiz’s weaknesses and becomes a father figure to him. Early in the recruitment process, Parvaiz is in Farooq’s apartment looking around and contemplating their relationship. “The Urdu word came closer than ‘friend’ to explaining how he thought of Farooq. Or even better, jigari dost—a friendship so deep it was lodged within you, could not be cut out without leaving a profound, perhaps fatal, wound.” Isma and Aneeka have no knowledge of Parvaiz’s relationship with Farooq and mistake his secrecy for a difficult romance. Ultimately Parvaiz is broken and leaves London with Farooq for Raqqa. He tells his sisters that he is going to Karachi to visit family, although they ultimately discover the truth
Eamonn returns to London and delivers a package of M&Ms from Isma to Aunty Naseem and meets the beautiful Aneeka. Aneeka and Eamonn begin a romantic relationship which grows deep and meaningful. However, Aneeka has an agenda and when Eamonn’s father, the Home Secretary learns of the relationship things turn very dangerous very fast.
The novel is a page turner and it is a warning. Intolerance has unintended consequences, the impacts of which are not just limited to the targets of the intolerance. Although the first portion of the book is a little choppy in setting out the foundation, the novel rapidly moves to a category of hard to put down. Home Fire won the 2018 Women’s Prize and is an enjoyable, thought provoking worthwhile read. You can reserve a copy from the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.