Tag Archives: Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

As I am sure you will know by now Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018. For the second (or is it third) year in a row I have enjoyed reading the whole longlist, which I plan on doing again with my mother next year as something a bit different. I think will be lots of fun and also quite eye opening as when we agree, we really agree, and when we don’t we really don’t as we discovered in a pub in Conwy talking about some of this year’s books last week. One of the books that we both agreed was wonderful was this novel, which my mother had actually read way ahead of me when it was up for the Costa’s.

Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback, 2018, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by Womens Prize

It is almost too easy to start talking about this book and mentioning the, well documented, fact that Home Fire is the retelling of Sophocles’ play Antigone, which I guess I have kind of done. I would like to park that for the rest of my thoughts as I think to do that may alienate anyone who doesn’t know the story. Which you don’t need to if you haven’t and also gives too much away. I had and teh ripples of my previous knowledge were sometimes felt though in many ways they added to the incredible tension building and sense of unease which Shamsie uses to create such a compelling read that you won’t forget it in a hurry. The ending will literally… well, suffice to say it will haunt you for quite some time.

However, Home Fire in its essence is a tale of three siblings, Isma and her twin sister and brother Aneeka and Parvais whose relationships, after the death of their mother, start to literally and emotionally fracture. Isma feeling, admittedly with a small pang of guilt, free from her family for the first time goes off to America to study. Parvais seeking to find out more about their mysterious father, who we the reader know became a Jihadist, and Anneka seemingly trying to keep the family together and safe as much as she ca whilst falling in love with the Home Secretary’s son, not the perfect match especially as the complexities of the novel move on. It is also in many ways what is it like to be London born of Pakistani descent in the UK right now, whether you have taken your families religion or not.

A man entered the office, carrying Isma’s passport, laptop and phone. She allowed herself to hope, but he sat down, gestured for her to do the same, and placed a voice recorder between them.
‘Do you consider yourself British?’ the man said.
‘I am British.’
‘But do you consider yourself British?’
‘I’ve lived here all my life.’ She meant there was no other country of which she could feel herself a part, but the words came out sounding evasive.

The crux of the novel centres around Parvaiz. Whether he is at the forefront of the novel or not, the foreshadowing of his situation the reverberations afterwards are interwoven throughout every page whether it is his voice we are hearing or one of the other narrators be it Isma, Aneeka, Eamonn, Lone or himself. It is his search to find out more about his father, after the death of his mother and what he perceives as abandonment by his elder sister, which eventually leads him to the world of radicalisation himself.

It is this section of the novel that I found to be the most difficult to read and yet the most thought provoking. As we follow Parvaiz and his sense of loss, questions and feeling lost, we understand how someone could then harness that for their own horrific means. Here I felt Shamsie does two things that I have found incredibly trusting and powerful in two of the other Women’s Prize shortlisted books. As with Kandasamy’s When I Hit You, we become groomed as the characters are, not literally but yet as you read you can fully see and almost experience how this could happen. As with Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing we are taken into mindset of a deeply troubled character and asked to try and understand the thoughts in their head that are so alien to us. It is incredibly potent reading; cloying and claustrophobic whilst making you question what you would do if that were you, could you genuinely not end up in the same situation?

He’d grown up knowing that his father was a shameful secret, one that must be kept from the world outside or else posters would appear on the Preston Road with the line DO YOU KNOW WHO YOUR NEIGHBOURS ARE? and rocks would be thrown through windows and he and his sisters wouldn’t receive invitations to the homes of their classmates and no girl would ever say yes to him. The secrecy had lived inside the house, too. His mother and Isma both carried around an anger towards Adil Pasha too immense for words, and as for Aneeka – her complete lack of feeling or curiosity about their father had been the first definite sign that he and his twin were two, not one. His grandmother alone had wanted to talk about the absence in their lives; part of their closeness came from how sometimes she would call him into her room and whisper stories about the high-spirited, good-looking, laughing-eyed boy she’d raised. But the stories were always of the boy, never of the man he became.

Whilst the subject of radicalisation is at the heart of Home Fire, there is also much more going on around that. Through Isma we see how difference is perceived by the US, which is of ever growing concern. Aneeka’s love affair takes us right into the heart of British politics and it’s confused and conflicting current state. There is also an interesting, and often subtle, look at religion and how everyone can take their holy words and perceive them in a way which works for them but would be read completely differently by someone else. In many ways it is this very thing which is at the epicentre of most of the conflict of today.

 ‘You know the Quran tells us to enjoy sex as one of God’s blessings?’ Hira said.
‘Within marriage!’
‘We all have our versions of selective reading when it comes to the Holy Book.’

Home Fire is one of the most haunting and thought provoking books that I have read in a long while. It is also a book that will subtly unsettle you in all the right ways and not just because of THAT ending. Kamila Shamsie does something incredible with this novel and her characters, you are not asked to judge them, you are asked to comprehend them and how each one of them might end up in the situation that they do. It is confronting, compelling and makes you want to delve deeper into the intricacies of one of the most controversial and troubling topics of our world today. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2018, Kamila Shamsie, Review, Women's Prize for Fiction

And The Winner of the Women’s Prize 2018 Is…

Kamila Shamsie with Home Fire. I have to say I have no idea how the judges managed to make a decision with that shortlist, especially between the Shamsie, Kandasamy and Ward which have been some of the best books I have read in quite some time, yet they have and a huge congratulations to Kamila. Here is the moment she picked up the prize at the ceremony which was a wonderful garden party.

That is also the only photograph that I took on the evening, I was too busy chatting to lots and lots of lovely people. I mentioned that there were three stupendously good books in the shortlist, I actually read all of the longlist again this year and will be sharing my reviews over the next few weeks if I haven’t reviewed them already on the blog.

And, in some exciting news, I can tell you that I will be reading the longlist again next year WITH MY MUM. Yes, we are going to be reading and chatting about the longlist together on my YouTube channel and I may even include some of her thoughts in my reviews as we go here as I will blog as I go next year. Exciting.

Anyway, what have you made of the Womens Prize for Fiction this year? What were your favourites on the long and short list? We’ve not chatted about it this year and I would love to know. Back to Kamila and her win, I will have my review of the brilliant Home Fire up on the blog on Friday.

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 Longlist

Oh how I love this time of year, when we find out the longlist of one of my very favourite book prizes, the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Every year I make an effort to guess the longlist (which I did on Youtube here) of which I invariably get about two or three right (somehow I guessed seven this year) but have huge fun in doing so before the longlist is announced and then read the longlist when it is actually announced. Which has just happened and here are the sixteen books that have made it this year…

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  • H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon
  • When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Trick To Time by Kit De Waal
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Whilst there might be some of my favourite books from the last twelve months missing I have to say this is one of the most eclectic and exciting longlists that I have seen in some time. And as with every year I will be joining in, especially as for the first time ever I actually have all the books, so it would be silly not to. I have already read five of the books, in italics with a link to the Schmidt which I adored, and may have another three in my luggage in Venice so have a good head start, and I will be reviewing (yes, those things are back) those I have read plus the ones I read as I go, as soon as I am back from holiday/honeymoon.

What are your thoughts on the longlist? Which have you read and what did you think of them? Are their any surprise inclusions of exclusions in your opinion? Let’s have a chat about it all in the comments below.

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The Costa Book Award 2017 Shortlists…

Are here… finally. I love this prize and have done for ages, this year being all the more special because I am judging the First Novel Award and can finally talk about the shortlist. But before I do in more depth in the next day or so here are the shortlists, tell me what you think about all of them.

2017 Costa Novel Award shortlist

  • Jon McGregor for Reservoir 13 (4th Estate)
  • Stef Penney for Under a Pole Star (Quercus)
  • Kamila Shamsie for Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Sarah Winman for Tin Man (Tinder Press)

2017 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

  • Xan Brooks for The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times (Salt)
  • Karl Geary for Montpelier Parade (Harvill Secker)
  • Gail Honeyman for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins)
  • Rebecca F. John for The Haunting of Henry Twist (Serpent’s Tail)

2017 Costa Biography Award shortlist

  • Xiaolu Guo for Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up (Chatto & Windus)
  • Caroline Moorehead for A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini (Chatto & Windus)
  • Rebecca Stott for In The Days of Rain (4th Estate)
  • Professor Stephen Westaby for Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table (HarperCollins)

2017 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

  • Kayo Chingonyi for Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus)
  • Helen Dunmore for Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe Books)
  • Sinéad Morrissey for On Balance (Carcanet)
  • Richard Osmond for Useful Verses (Picador)

2017 Costa Children’s Book Award shortlist

  • Sarah Crossan for Moonrise (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • Lissa Evans for Wed Wabbit (David Fickling Books)
  • Kiran Millwood Hargrave for The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)
  • Katherine Rundell for The Explorer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

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Which ones have you read, which ones are you excited to read and, of course, what do you think of the debut category. I am very excited to be able to talk about them all…

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Gail Honeyman, Jon McGregor, Kamila Shamsie, Karl Geary, Random Savidgeness, Rebecca F. John, Sarah Winman, Stef Penney, Xan Brooks, Xiaolu Guo

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2017

I know I said that the relaunch of Savidge Reads would be next week, however one of the  most common comments from those of you who have done the feedback survey (which I posted earlier in the week and would love even more of you to fill in, you might win some books if you do) was that people loved hearing about prizes on here. So with that in mind here is the Man Booker longlist for 2017 which has not long been announced…

MB2017 BookStack

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4
th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

What do I think of it? Well my initial thoughts (as I am literally typing this moments after the list going live) is that it is an interesting list if not a wholly surprising one. Barry, Hamid, McCormack, Roy, Saunders, Shamsie, the Smiths (not the band but imagine if Zadie and Ali made a band that would be something) and Whitehead have all been heralded and been up for several awards – if not winning them before.

This is by no means a slight as a) long time readers will know I do have a thing for the Booker b) I have read and loved the Barry, Hamid and Whitehead novels this year (reviews coming soon) and indeed love Ali Smith full stop, plus as with Ali’s I have been very keen to read the new much awaited Roy novel. I am also intrigued to get to both the Saunders and the McGregor as they have been on my TBR for quite some time. So interestingly this is one of the most instantly ‘yes I would read all those books’ Booker longlist I have seen in some years, in fact it is also one of the most ‘ooh I have actually read a few of those’ Booker linguists. Yet one of the things I love about book awards is discovering something or someone completely new to me.

This is possibly because I am a contrary old so and so but it is true. So for me the Fridlund and the Mozely are the ones I am the most keen to rush out and read now (if I wasn’t myself judging the Costa’s, though I may still have to get it). That said alongside the Mozely the other book I most want to read is the Shamsie, an author who has been up for many an award with both Burnt Shadows (which I funking adored) and A God In Every Stone (which I also thought was pretty blinking brilliant) and whose new novel feeds into my recent mini obsession of greek myths retold. So those may be three I try and squeeze into my summer/fall reading.

Which would I like to win at this point? Without a seconds thought Mohsin Hamid is my current personal favourite to win, which may shock some of you as you may know that I fell hard for the Barry. Yet, I utterly adored Exit West when I read it and it has grown on me more and more since both in the way it looks at refugees, war and love with a speculative yet oh so realistic twist or two. More on that book, and some of the others, very soon.

In the meantime… What about all of you? What are your thoughts on the list? Are you happy, is there a title or two missing for you? Which have you read and what did you make of them? Any favourites?

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Could I Read Books Only By Women For A Year?

This is the question that I have been asking myself on and off all week as the book world is all a chatter about the lack of equality, which also equates to the lack of diversity in both the reading industry and it seems the habits of the reading public. Questions around women have been high on the agenda with a report that novels with female protagonists or narrators being less likely to win an award, then Kamila Shamsie wrote a provocation asking publishers to only publish women for a year and then today one publisher, And Other Stories, saying that they were indeed going to do just that in 2018. Let’s all catch our breath for a second and calm down…

My initial reaction to all of this was ‘well do you know what; I will read only female authors for the next year’. But that is just reactionary and equality is about more than just reacting on the spot. For equality to work we need all those parties/genders/minorities involved to make things equal. I know that sounds obvious and makes it all sound so easy, yet at the heart of it that is the truth. We all have to take responsibility in enabling equality with our own habits first, yet sometimes we don’t even realise what our habits are.

Let me be really honest. When I read a book, be it for work or pleasure, I just want to be lost in a bloody brilliant book. Call me naive but I don’t tend to think about the gender, age, colour or sexuality of the author. I honestly don’t think many general readers do either. I think I read more women than I do men by a mile, at the end of the year it tends to almost be 50/50 which always surprises me. Another prime example was with judging Fiction Uncovered, we had X amount of submissions and as judges we all went off read like loons and then came back with the books we thought were the best (for all sorts of reasons, a whole different discussion for another time) and we discussed them and whittled them down to a longlist of fifteen. Until we looked at that final selection we hadn’t even been aware that it was a selection of four men and eleven women, it was about the books and the way those books and their words and language had affected us, isn’t that what reading should be all about? Not once did we then think ‘oops better add some more men into that mix’, and this was a panel of two men and two women completely equal but the outcome was what it was. Those were just the best of some utterly corking books. End of.

However something was highlighted to me the other day that showed I don’t always read as diversely as I think, and at the end of the day it is only you yourself who can make you read more diversely, no one else is going to read for you. Nikesh Shukla, who will be sharing his shelves with you all this weekend, was asking on Twitter for recommendations of BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) authors books for a summer reading list. Off I skipped to my shelves thinking this would be a doddle… I only had about ten such books on my shelves, which are plentiful, I was horrified. I genuinely thought I read much more diversely than that. It bothered me.

So how do we combat these reading habits we get into, what can we actually do to change things? We can do things like starting prizes/ initiatives/readalongs etc that highlight voices or people that might be going under the radar. That is why  I co-founded the Green Carnation Prize, I wanted to highlight LGBT authors (not the gayest books as some journalists lazily think) and so I put my money where my moaning mouth was, and created something positive with all that energy. However first I think we have to start much closer to home and with our very own choices of books.

So could I read only books by women for a year? Yes, easily and I bet it would be a real treat at times and less of a success of times, just like and (and every) reading year. Will I do it? No. You see only reading books by women by its very nature wouldn’t be me reading for equality, it would be halving the experiences I could have in missing out great male authors of all walks of life and backgrounds. Narrowing your reading options really doesn’t do anyone any good. For example, if I chose to only read BAME authors or LGBT authors I would be missing out on white or straight novelists of both genders. In any of these scenario’s I am going to be cutting out some wonderful reads and with books that is what I want wonderful reads, so only I would be missing out really.

So rather than ‘not’ read or ‘only’ read any particular group of authors, I will try to do my best to make sure I read as equal amount of books by men and women, of all different races, backgrounds and sexualities (more translated fiction would do that which is something we need to be looking at with a very fine toothcomb frankly) as I can. After all, surely that is going to give me the best future reading life possible, the best of all worlds, walking in all sorts of different types of people’s shoes – or stories.

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A God in Every Stone – Kamila Shamsie

I mentioned a while ago that I had a small backlog of book reviews, which is fortunate as I can’t really talk to you about what I am reading at the moment. One book is Kamila Shamsie’s sixth novel A God in Every Stone which has just been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which I read last year. Why have I held of reviewing it until the shortlisted nudge? Well, A God in Every Stone is one of those books that is epic for its size in both its stories scope and indeed the themes that are held within. This is a readers dream, it is also blooming hard work for a reviewer, here goes…

Bloomsbury Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

There are three strands within A God in Every Stone. The book opens with us in the Persian empire in the company of Scylax, an explorer in the fifth-century BCE, this is a very brief snippet before we are thrown into 1914 and the first of the two major strands, but don’t forget old Scylax, as we join Vivian Rose Spencer as she joins a Turkish archaeologist, Tahsin Bey, at a dig in Labraunda. Tahsin has been in her life for many years as a friend of her father and used to often tell her stories of Scylax when she was a young girl, inspiring her love of adventure, archaeology, history and the stories of the past and its people. As they work together an additional bond is built yet soon the First World War begins and are separated when Vivian is sent back to London to serve as a VAD.

The second main strand is that of two brothers living in Peshwar, Najeeb (who is an utter joy to read and instantly became my favourite character) and Qayyum. Qayyum has been a soldier for the British forces, and is returning after having been kept in Brighton to recover from some injuries. He returns to find his home city a changed place, having left the battle fields he returns to a city that seems to be on the very edge of unrest and potential catastrophe. How do these all interweave, well that would be telling I don’t want to spoil it for anyone so I am not going to tell you, you need to read the book.

If this all makes it sound like A God in Every Stone is rather confusing and disorientating, it honestly isn’t. This is a novel where characters, and most importantly really history, interweave and intertwine creating a wonderful tapestry of interconnecting lives. Now I worry I have made it sound twee and this book is anything but that; there is one huge twist in the novel that I didn’t see coming and hit me with an emotional wallop that actually made me gasp, as the book leads to its conclusion on The Street of Storytellers it depicts one of the biggest atrocities in Peshwar’s history, yet one that is little known or spoken of outside of the country.

The book is also teeming with themes one being history. Regular visitors will know that my mother is a classics teacher who would love to do archaeology and dragged me round Pompeii for a day when I was younger, so when I started reading about archaeological digs a bit of me went back to that day and winced. However the story of a woman in that setting in the male dominated pre-war era is a really interesting one and Vivian is quite the forward thinking woman who fights against stereotypes often through some very awkward situations with men who want to tame her, women who hate her – oh and the secret service wanting to hire her. It is little gems like that, based on fact, that give the book added dimensions and Shamsie is very good at giving every character some kind of additional story without it feeling forced or that she wants to bash you over the head with all the research she has done.

How can I explain how it feels to hold an ancient object and feel yourself linked to everyone through whose hand it passed. All these stories which happened where we live, on our piece of earth – how can you stay immune to them? Every day here in Taxila I dig up a new story. And, yes, I am grateful to the English for putting this spade in my hands and allowing me to know my own history. But to you history is something to be made, not studied, so how can you understand?

Shamsie takes a very interesting look at history in the novel. She looks at how we see events before something life changing occurs, how we see it during and how we think of it afterwards both instantly and in hindsight. All of the characters do this be it on a small or large scale. Shamsie also looks at how history is not actually something solely from the past, it is also something from the future because we are building it every second, every minute and indeed as we think our future actions through.

I know the stories of men from twenty-five hundred years ago, but I’ll never know what happens to you.

Another large theme in A God in Every Stone is the importance of story; how stories become history, how history becomes a story. She also looks at the power of stories and storytelling, be they the ones we tell others, the ones we tell ourselves and the ones that we will never know. In fact really you could say that this novel is the embodiment of how we can learn through stories, be they fictional or factual, and how we use those stories of the past to build the stories of the future.

I still don’t feel like I have really done A God in Every Stone justice, thought I felt the same after reading Burnt Shadows (you can see the review but bear in mind it was written long ago and made me wince a little as I read it) which is also a deceptive epic for its 300 pages too. It is just one of those tricky yet marvellous books that are very hard to write about if you haven’t read them and experienced them. Experienced is the right word actually because having come away from this novel I really felt I had lived, lost and loved alongside all the characters and what they went through. Suffice to say I think you should stop reading this and go and read Shamsie instead.

If you would like to find out more about A God in Every Stone, you can hear Kamila talking about it (far more eloquently than I can write about it) in conversation with me on You Wrote The Book here. Who else has read it and what were your thoughts?

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