This modern retelling of Antigone has shaken the world with its impact and multiple nominations in prestigious book awards for its content and writing. In this relatively short novel Kamila Shamsie weaves the lives of an immigrant family living in the UK: three siblings who were orphaned when they were young and their relationship with the son of a powerful political figure. Unique, insightful, thought-provoking and provocative, this novel succeeded in bringing out relevant themes in the political and social conflicts of the world with their characters, but unfortunately missing in executing it in the way that many people, including I, expected.
The suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences
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?
The story starts with the oldest sister of the family, Isma, the self-appointed mother of her two younger twin siblings, who was caught in the immigration office as she enters the US for her research study. Smart, calm, composed yet passionate, she is my favourite character in the book. Unlike many people, I really liked the first part of the book. Isma felt the most relatable to me and her relationship with her family and later on with Eamonn was nice to read about. So imagine my surprise when suddenly the second part of the book shifts perspective to Aneeka.
We should have stories in common, I found myself thinking. We should have stories, and jokes no one understands, and memories that we know will stay alive because neither of us will let the other forget.
What I liked about the book is of course the premise itself, and the clever plotting, its parallel line with the classic story (which I honestly have never read so cannot compare with). Even without knowing the original plot I was able to really enjoy the story and her take on a more modern theme, with the main underlying question of: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love? Really strongly makes the readers contemplate and think.
It is indeed an interesting writing style. Not too lyrical and quite detached. I didn’t really like the latter, more political parts of the book and preferred the personal parts of Isma and Aneeka, but I know many people thought the writing actually got better in their opinion as the book progresses. In all I was okay with the writing, I didn’t think it was bland, but it was not memorable nor beautifully either.
The characters also indeed felt a little lukewarm to my taste. I found the four main characters interesting in their own ways, but only on surface level. I feel like Shamsie had planned out these elaborate characterisations in each of her main characters, and she really knows their inner thoughts and how they work, but unfortunately it didn’t translate really well to us the readers. In the end they felt less like a real human being and too on-the-paper.
For a second I was almost jealous of the clouds. Why was he looking to them for an escape when I was right here beside him?
In the end this book was well-written and well thought of. It’s current, important and relevant, and beautiful in its own way. Yes, it is not for everyone’s taste. But it’s still a good and essential read nonetheless. However I did feel a little underwhelmed by its content and execution that did not live up to my expectations.