BY KAMILA SHAMSIE
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Kamila Shamsie has just won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 so it seemed the perfect time to read this powerful tragedy, which is a modern take on Sophocles’s Antigone. This is a moving story of two different British Muslim families coping with divided loyalties, beliefs and accountabilities.
Isma and Aneeka are two orphaned sisters dealing with the radicalisation of their brother Parvaiz after he discovers the truth about their father’s unexplained death on the way to Guantanamo Bay. Parvaiz is suddenly and shockingly radicalised and Shamsie shows us how quickly an adrift young man can be almost inadvertently drawn into the jihadi underworld from which there is no turning back. This has devastating consequences on those close to him, which we all found mesmerising and heart-breaking. Aneeka (Antigone) is determined to help him. She seeks out Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary Karamat, who to further his ascent into politics has denounced those Muslims who don’t try to blend in with British life. Eamonn, unable to live up to his father’s expectations is a vulnerable target for Aneeka who is out to sacrifice herself in order to help her twin brother.
A different installment of the story is told by the main characters, beginning with Isme, the elder sister and ending with Karamat, which cleverly reveals the differing opinions and their perspective on the 'burning' betrayals.
Whilst the style of writing is raw and not always sophisticated, the insights into British Muslims growing up in Wembley and the different choices these siblings make with their lives is eye opening. And the tension very poignant.
Whilst definitely a book of the moment it also feels like a wild card as it tackles difficult political, religious and moral issues. It's epic in stature and the remodelling of Sophocles's Antigone embedded with heightened emotions of love, family loyalty, betrayal and avenged death reminds us that the ancient world and the modern world are tragically closely aligned.
Also shortlisted for the Costa best novel award 2017 and long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017.
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