Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Home Fire is a literary thriller that partly unfolds in England, yet it is impossible to contain such multilingual and politically astute fiction within solely British locales.
Shamsie is concerned with Muslims who leave their homes in Britain to join Daesh. Her novel is accordingly set in five locations: London, Amherst in Massachusetts, Istanbul, Raqqa in Syria, and Karachi.
Similarly, the novel’s structure echoes the five acts over which much Western drama unfolds and each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the five major characters.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is full of wicked humour and political acerbity.
Primary school teacher, Miss Brodie’s professional downfall coincides with her students’ coming of age in 1930s Edinburgh, against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in Europe.
It is Miss Brodie’s ‘side interest’ in totalitarianism and almost nonchalant endorsement of Mussolini and Hitler, that allows one of Miss Brodie’s favoured ‘set’ to betray her to school authorities.
The novel also looks at the fickleness of teenage friendships, and the cruelty of school dynamics.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is an unputdownable novel by Nigerian-American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. As its title suggests, it centres on protagonist Ifemelu’s journey to become a US citizen or ‘Americanah’.
The novel depicts Ifemelu’s eventual homecoming to Nigeria and her doubts about this homecoming. Ifemelu has undergone great change during her years in the United States, and her long-awaited homecoming makes her rethink her relationship with home, especially as Nigeria too has altered almost beyond recognition during her time away.
In her essay We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie writes, ‘Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture’. Americanah has a great deal of value to say about feminism and the treatment of women in Nigeria, America, and elsewhere.
A Season for Martyrs by Bina Shah
There have been several books about Bhutto’s murder in recent years, and this one comes highly recommended.
The protagonist of Bina Shah’s novel, A Season for Martyrs, Ali, works in television as a journalist. The novel is set in Sindh and spans various eras, including 2007 to 2008, which saw the Lawyers’ Movement and Benazir Bhutto’s return to, and subsequent assassination in, Pakistan.
The novel looks at how Musharraf opened up the media only to effectively silence it again during the lawyers’ mass protests. A seasoned media figure herself, Shah recognizes the artifice involved in the production of television journalism.
Indeed, as Ali’s hard-nosed boss sees it: ‘The news was not about honest emotion, but about smooth edges and the right sound bite’.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
On its publication in 2003, Brick Lane was met with commercial and critical success.
The novel is perceptive about what the character Dr Azad calls ‘Going Home Syndrome’. This ‘disease’ is caused by a desire to return to the homeland, which the doctor claims afflicts many Bangladeshi migrants.
This connects to another strand in the novel about the migrant’s sense of being out of place, which can lead to mental illness − such as Nazneen’s collapse due to ‘nervous exhaustion’.