by Kamila Shamsie
Aneeka and Parvaiz are twins, raised by their sister since their mother died when the twins were only twelve. The family lives in Wembley and is well-loved by members of the local, diverse community.
The story is split into section, each based primarily on the experience of one of the main characters, but with the whole still flowing as a story. At the start, Isma is starting a new life as a PhD student at a Massachusetts college, having had her education interrupted during the years when she was caring for and financially supporting the twins, nine years her junior. Life seems to be looking up when she meets and is immediately attracted to Eamonn, himself from London and half Pakistani. We learn of Isma’s previous connection with Eamonn’s politician father. The story of her own father begins to unfold, and at the same time the reader learns (though it is not spelled out) that Parvaiz has gone to Raqqa to fight with IS.
The story takes Eamonn, Parvaiz, Aneeka and Karamat is turn as the primary actors, as it moves towards its inevitably tragic end. The modern setting for this ancient story is littered with hashtags, Skype calls, text messaging – and yet this does not seem contrived but fits the action perfectly. I feel that if I were to re-read this novel in twenty years’ time, whilst some of these things might appear old-fashioned, they would still fit the era (now) and place in which the the story is set.
Only on finishing the book did I read that it is based on the story of Antigone. To my shame, I am largely unfamiliar with Ancient Greek myths and legends, so I read up on this one and I can clearly see the references in the inevitable and tragic fate of Parvaiz and Aneeka, but also in the names of the main characters.
This book gripped me from the start, and I read it in two days. I had also enjoyed Shamsie’s earlier novel Burnt Shadows, but this most recent novel seemed more believable as a story, and perhaps less didactic than the earlier book. It is one of those novels that you feel will give up even more in a second reading. I hope so, since I may well recommend it for my book group.