July issue 2018
By Ayhan Sayani | Newsliners | Published 5 years ago
Kamila Shamsie, British-Pakistani author of seven novels including Kartography, Salt and Saffron, Burnt Shadows and A God In Every Stone, was the recipient of the prestigious ‘Women’s Prize For Fiction’ for her critically acclaimed 2017 novel, Home Fire. The novelist was presented a statuette, along with a £30,000 cash-prize, at a ceremony in London. “The prize itself is a beautiful statue, of considerable heft, so when you hold it you really do feel as if you’ve literally and metaphorically got your hands on something very substantial,” said a delighted Shamsie.
Kamila Shamsie emerged victorious from a “dazzling shortlist” that included the likes of Elif Bautman, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Jessie Greengrass, Meena Kandasamy and Jesmyn Ward. Sarah Sands, editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, said, “We chose the book which we felt spoke for our times.” Incidentally, Home Fire was also long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.
The author revamps Sophocles’ legendary tragedy Antigone (442 BC) through a well-plotted narrative that takes us into the lives of three orphaned siblings (Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz) of a jihadi father. Parvaiz, caught up in his personal struggle, makes the consequential choice to leave his sisters behind in order to join Isis’s media wing. The sisters, who are not ready to accept the fate of their ‘missing’ brother, embark on a journey to save him. They are accompanied by Eamonn, the son of a powerful British politician.
In the age of Islamophobia, this work not only explores Islam from an outsider’s perspective, but, by pitting two Muslim families against each other, also gives a profound internal view of the religion. Through her characters, Shamsie makes a clear distinction between the stereotypical ‘good Muslim’ and ‘bad Muslim’ in order to highlight the rift within the community itself. The loose rework, which grapples with the themes of politics, identity, religion and conflicting loyalties, is a presentable fit for the modern age. Praising the 44-year-old’s work, Sands’ remarked, “It doesn’t feel as if she is straining to recreate Antigone – you could read it without thinking about Sophocles at all. In a way, that just gives it a resonance.”
A vocal advocate of the Women’s Prize, Shamsie has called for the year 2018 to be one in which female authors and their work are given greater regard. According to her, the prize which was established first in 1996 has helped to, “create a space for women in a male-dominated world, giving voice and space to those who wouldn’t find them elsewhere.”