mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

33621427Summary from Goodreads:
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Home Fire is the first Shamsie book I’ve managed to finish, which is a shame because I love her actual sentences. She’s always lost me when she jumps settings/characters from one time point to another – I just lose interest. This novel is much more intimate, more compressed so I didn’t feel like I was starting over with each section. I wished I had more of the story from Isma’s point-of-view, though, because I found her perspective most interesting: she is the good daughter, the “good immigrant,” the one who raised her siblings, did everything right, got herself to graduate school in the US.  Her earnestness contrasts so much with the suspicion which all Muslims, especially those with familial ties to jihadists, etc., are viewed. It is a heart-breaking story about fanaticism on both sides of the terrorism divide, the hard-liners who create policies that condemn those who step out of line no matter which side of the divide you wish to escape or repent of. The last 20 pages or so are superb.

Shamsie borrowed the frame of Sophocles’s Antigone for her characters to rail against.  Now, don’t worry.  You don’t need to have read the play to understand what’s going on. I vaguely remembered Antigone from the Oedipus cycle and had no trouble with the plot of Home Fire. I did, however, read through the play after reading the novel and Shamsie did a wonderful modernization/retelling; the character parallels are very deftly done. I wouldn’t recommend the reverse, reading the play first if you haven’t already, since I think that might spoil a plot point or two.

Comment specific to the Man Booker 2017 longlist: this is the 3rd of the 13 longlisted books I’ve read, the other two being The Underground Railroad and Lincoln in the Bardo. While I liked this one a great deal, the other two destroyed me while I was reading them (one with raw power of truth through fiction, the other with exquisite rendering of language and setting). I’ve got the other long-listers on my reading list but Home Fire is in a runner-up position for me.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss (the Sophocles I already owned).

mini-review · stuff I read

New People by Danzy Senna

33275357Summary from Goodreads:
From the bestselling author of Caucasia, a subversive and engrossing novel of race, class and manners in contemporary America.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, “King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.” Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her–yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona.

Heartbreaking and darkly comic, New People is a bold and unfettered page-turner that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another, and ourselves.

New People was a really interesting novel but I feel like I got lost midway through. Maria is a fantastic character – a woman who has always adopted identities starts to lose herself as her wedding date draws near and she finishes her dissertation about Jonestown. You don’t like her (actually, the only character I liked was her mom, Gloria) but you want to know what she’s doing next. But about midway through I started wondering where the plot was going – is Maria going to break up with Kamil? Shag this poet dude? Yell at Lisa? Go crazy? I really enjoyed Senna’s writing, though, so even if Maria’s narrative got a bit wonky I was enjoying the way Senna described the action.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.