Kamila Shamsie – Home Fire

Home Fire

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a modern update of Sophocles Antigone , which is about the title hero stealing her brother’s corpse despite the laws and having a proper burial on home turf. I have not read The Sophocles play, but I did read Jean Anouilh’s version which places the scene to wartime France but keeps the same message with anti Nazi undertones.

In Shamsie’s story, the scene is placed mostly in London and is a commentary on migrants, and more importantly identity. Isma and her twin siblings; Aneez and Parvaiz are at different stages in their lives. Isma is ready to study in the US, Aneez is in university and Parvaiz decides to follow in the footsteps of his terrorist father and after being influenced by Farooq, he moves to Syria and helps with terrorist activities, which lead him into trouble and raises the ethical and political issues that are brought up in Antigone.

The book is told through different perspectives, in the third person though, and it works. Shamie manages to pull off a coherent plot but this is only scratching the surface. The novel takes sharp jabs at the manipulative power of the media and gender politics (the role of the male in a Muslim family) but more importantly it asks about the question of identity. Can a Muslim in politics ban other Muslims and denominations from migrating? Is war a solution? Home Fires poses some complex questions about race and does answer them.

So yes, I thought this book was excellent. It piles on some heavy themes but is readable, and let’s face it: a well constructed novel. I never really used to like Shamsie’s writing in the past but here she has done a fantastic job

Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Ministry

At first I was going to say what a mess this book is. I mean information is flung at you. Characters show up every few lines. Not to mention the endless pages about the politics in several regions in India (rather than focus on one) . But then I read the following quote at the end of the book:

‘How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody?
No
By slowly becoming everything’

and THAT sums up the book.

After reflection between reading this book is not a mess but rather a reflection of life. The way personal destinies destinies cross and entwine themselves with history, which in turn becomes a personal history. Roy stuffs a lot in this novel and, although daunting, it makes perfect sense.

I saw the main message as a snapshot of India’s history from partition and the after effects which still are present in the 21st century: the suffering, the political maneuvers, the campaigns but Roy also includes a human side and that’s with her character. It also ends up being a commentary on attitudes on sexuality, the notion of gender, the caste system and we readers get doses of Indian mythology, traditions, prayers and details about typical Indian dishes. Not only is this a novel of purposeful information overload but it is sprawling. In fact dozens of comparisons kept flashing in my mind – Jodrowsky, Rushdie, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Sashi Tharoor and even a bit of Arundhati Roy’s previous book,, The God of Small Things popped up.

Is it an enjoyable read? In places I thought it was pure genius, other times I did feel a bit disengaged from the narrative but when these occasions were brief and Roy would throw in a plot twist or something like that and I would focus on the book again.

Definitely not a book to read once and I am sure that the second time round (hopefully in a year or so) there will be new discoveries.

Maybe it’s not the masterpiece as Roy’s first novel but Ministry… is delves deeper into Roy’s political mind and is open to more interpretation and dissecting.

Shame – Songs of Praise

Shame

On the track The Lick, the lead singer of London band Shame criticises NME approved indie music and repeats the line ‘relatable, not debatable’ until it becomes a mantra. The irony is that Shame have created a debut album that is relatable AND debatable at the same time.

Shame are angry. All the lyrics on Songs of Praise are stuffed with vitriol and nasty barbs and most of the time these are found in the chorus. It’s quite fun to sing I like you better when you’re not around (Tasteless). Most of  Shame’s tracks are literally screamed to accentuate that pent up anger and like an rabid beast beware everything from love to politics get attacked by this rage filled band.

Although I have used words like rage and angry, musically Songs of Praise is not some angst filled screamo record. Each track has got a rich melodic sensibility. Sometimes it is fast ( Dust on Trial, Donk, Concrete) and sometimes it is downright anthemic , my personal favourite track being Friction, which pure catchiness. One Rizla is another track. The above mentioned The Lick is a spoken word piece that manages to sound like Blur circa 1994 and 1997. However the song where Shame display all their talents is closing track, Angie, a track dedicated to a departed friend of the band is six minutes of anger, a sing along chorus and a strange air of despair. It’s the perfect way to conclude an album with this much swagger and bravado.

Shame are among the new batch of British indie rockers that are not afraid to show their anger or distaste towards society and politics. As debuts go Songs of Praise is a fine fine debut that works as a perfect showcase to this band’s talents and if one looks at the bigger picture, it’s also a sign that British guitar rock is slowly gaining attention again.

 

Top Books I Read in 2017. Nos 2 & 1.

Number 2. Jonathan Franzen – Freedom.

Jonathan-franzen-freedom

This came as a total surprise as I have attempted to read Freedom a couple of times and had difficulty going beyond a couple of pages but this year it seems that everything was perfect and I ploughed through it in less than a week.

Dare I say that Freedom is better than Franzen’s previous novel, The Corrections? The book focuses on the disintegration of a typical suburban family post 9/11. As one can expect there’s break ups, break downs and tons of drama but just in case one thinks that Franzen is a cold hearted cynic there’s a big beating heart in this novel. oh there’s a sub plot about the Cerulean Warbler too! This is an epic novel with fully realised characters and many memorable moments.

Number 1. Ali Smith Autumn & Winter.

Those who know me probably would have guessed that these two novels would take the top spot. I am a huge fan of Ali Smith and with both Autumn and Winter she has outdone herself.

These volumes are the first parts of a four book cycle, all focusing on a season. However the main plot is about post Brexit Britain. As always Smith crams loads of themes in her work so these two novels are about art,feminism,politics, racism,media and more. Since this is Ali Smith, there’s a lot of playful prose, puns and surreal moments. Saying that, these  novels display Smith’s more angry side and the reader can feel her displeasure at current events, especially in Winter. Smith does not leave it there though as she compares current events with past ones and finds similarities, the main conclusion being that history repeats itself. One little note, both these volumes are intricately linked even though it doesn’t seem so at first but I’ll let you figure out how Smith does it.

With these two volumes Ali Smith has proved that an author can be experimental and accessible at the same time and it also proves that she is still a unique voice in literature today and I’m glad that there are authors like her who are making readers aware of what is happening to the world and not in a preachy way.