British Pakistani, Kamila Shamsie has been named the winner of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her book ‘Home Fire’ is loosely centered around the theme of the Greek tragedy ‘Antigone’ written by Sophocles. It focuses on conflicting loyalties as the main character struggles between following the dictates of the state and remaining true to her family.
As described by the Chair of Judges, Sarah Sands, Home Fire is a book which the judging panel felt “spoke of our times… Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love, and politics.”
The selection of this particular book and author for the prize meant that plenty of big names had to be let go. The book won out against, for example, Pulitzer prize winner, Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness and American author Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which won the National Book Award.
We lost some big names, with regret, but narrowed down the list to the books which spoke most directly and truthfully to the judges,” said Sarah Sands. The shortlist was chosen without fear or favor…
The books shortlisted by the judges were, they claimed, the ones which “spoke most directly and truthfully” to all of them.
‘Home Fire’ has also been recognized by other award-giving establishments in the UK; it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize of 2017 and shortlisted for the prestigious Costa Book Award.
The reason that it won is perhaps due to the relevance of its themes for the misrepresented factions of today’s world. The book explores the journey of three orphaned siblings; it speaks to the struggles of Muslim immigrants and the love and loyalty for one’s family as the sister Aneeka tries to get back her twin brother Parvaiz, who had left London to go join up with ISIL in Syria.
The storyline of Antigone is prevalent in the book, especially towards the end, when Parvaiz dies and his body is not allowed to be sent back to Britain, per the dictate of the Muslim Home Secretary, which orders betrayers to be stripped of their citizenship. This is also a referral to British PM Theresa May’s policy of debarment of terror suspects from the country, as well as the taking away of their citizenships; thus it deftly combines and subtly attacks the aspects of politics, family, and religion.
Sarah Sands praised Shamsie for being able to “tackle a hard subject which otherwise would never have that sense of layered sympathy and understanding”, also saying that it “really advanced our understanding of the whole issue of identity.
This was the third time Shamsie has been nominated for the award. She has been an advocate of female authors for a long time now. In 2015, she expressed her appreciation for the Women’s Prize for its role in creating “a space for women in a male-dominated world, giving voice and space to those who wouldn’t find them elsewhere”.