A modern-day Antigone set against political tensions in London, Shamsie’s latest is a haunting and arrestingly current portrait of two families forever caught in the insurmountable gap between love and country, loyalty and desire.
Long the caretaker of her younger twin siblings, Isma Pasha—free at last—accepts an invitation from her mentor to trade London for Amherst to finally earn her long-deferred sociology Ph.D. But even in America, she cannot forget her siblings: Aneeka, feisty and beautiful in London; and Parvaiz, who has disappeared into Syria, following in the footsteps of the jihadi father he never knew. Britain, however, is not as far away as it seems, and it is in a Massachusetts cafe that Isma—serious, studious—sees a face as familiar as it is unlikely: Eamonn Lone, whose politico father has made his career winning white votes by denouncing the “backwardness” of British Muslims. This is where it might become a campus novel, a complicated but gentle love story between two expats with warring families abroad. But it doesn’t. For one thing, it’s not Isma Eamonn loves; it’s Aneeka, whom he meets back in London while running an errand on Isma's behalf. Within hours, the two begin a secretive romance, but it is Aneeka's brother, Parvaiz, trapped now at a jihadi camp in Raqqa and desperate to come home, who occupies her thoughts. With all the stakes of the original, two-time Orange Prize nominee Shamsie (A God in Every Stone, 2014, etc.) has written an explosive novel with big questions about the nature of justice, defiance, and love. Though its characters are trembling with humanity writ large—all of them are tragic figures—they don’t quite come alive, remaining Grecian archetypes, dramatic embodiments of powerful ideas. As a result, despite its obvious power, the book remains emotionally disconnected, unsettling—moving, even—but poetically removed, as though a dance behind glass.
A powerful novel and a timely one.