Soon after the Manchester Arena bombing in May, the city’s central mosque declared it would not perform Islamic obsequies for the attacker. “We cannot offer prayers over someone who has committed such an act,” said the imam. His words reminded me of Sophocles’ play Antigone, in which Creon insists the traitorous Polynices cannot be buried within the walls of Thebes. Clearly, I wasn’t the first one to notice the parallel. In Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie‘s seventh novel, the British-Pakistani writer re-imagines Antigone for our age of terror.
Her Polynices is called Parvaiz, a British Muslim boy attracted by the siren call of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. He and his two sisters, Aneeka and Isma, grew up in Wembley, west London, in the shadow of their father, a jihadist who died being transferred to Guantánamo. In most other respects, though, Parvaiz is an ordinary boy who helps out at his local library and is “never seen without his headphones and a mic”.
Everything changes when a sinister recruiter, “a compact but powerfully built man, muscles distorting the shape of his tightly fitting bomber jacket”, tells Parvaiz that his father was tortured by the Americans in Bagram, Afghanistan, and that to avenge him he must join Isil – a group, he says, that has been misrepresented by the West.