Because my reading time is taken up with manuscript submissions, the only outside reading I do is listening to audiobooks when I drive the longer distances demanded by living in a rural area. I just finished Home Fire by the British/Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie and it made me reflect on the power of narrative fiction to better illustrate through dramatization social and political truths that straight journalism, hewing to the facts, cannot quite deliver.
In this novel, the children of a solidly middle-class family, though of Pakistani background, have all grown up in London, and in that vast melting pot, are as British as anyone else. And yet the novel painfully illustrates how this minority group is made to suffer for the acts of a few. In Shamsie’s story, a twin brother is lured into becoming a jihadi and makes his way to Syria only to be killed by the man who brainwashed him for having second thoughts and trying to escape. His two sisters, model citizens are scorned and vilified for just being associated with him.
Two things resonated with me in this novel. The first is that everywhere in the world there are many young people within a minority who feel disenfranchised and are easy prey for the militant members of their group, who can persuade them to revolt against an established order. The second is that racism and xenophobia seem to be more naturally inherent in a civilization that one would think. Shamsie’s point is that under pressure this racism rears its ugly head and even good citizens of a minority suffer its consequences. This goes across the board from racism against people of color, to women, to religious racism. And in this novel, you are gracefully allowed to see this condition from the point of view of those who hold the power against those who rise up against it.
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Here is a link to the audio version of Home Fire at Audible