Booker longlist reading: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Just under the wire, I finished one of my most eagerly awaited longlist nominees. Shamsie’s novel has received rave reviews all over the place and is the bookie’s favorite to make the shortlist. It’s a topic that I’ve studied and written on and one that matters a lot to me: the way in which the post 9/11 (and in this case, 7/7) attacks have reshaped the way Muslims are perceived and treated in western Europe and North America. Shamsie’s novel is set in the UK and focuses on the particular issues there, but the larger themes apply across many settings.

Liz, Rosario, Theresa, and other Booker Longlist readers have described the plot so I won’t rehash that here (you should definitely go read their reviews and the comments to them). Shamsie models her story on the plot of Sophocles’ Antigone, with a few modifications in the cast and family relationships. In her telling there are two central families, one comprising Isma, Aneeka, and Pervaiz Pasha, the children of a British-Pakistani man who died fighting with Islamist terrorists; and the other headed by Karamat Lone, rising front-bench politician and current Home Secretary whose marriage to a wealthy, successful American businesswoman has propelled his career. Karamat and Terry have two children in their 20s: Emily, an investment banker in NY, and Eamonn, a somewhat aimless but charming and handsome 24-year-old.

Isma is the older mother-substitute, who finally has the chance to pursue her own intellectual ambitions when twins Aneeka and Pervaiz reach adulthood. But her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States sets a number of actions in motion, actions that will have devastating consequences for all of them. And Karamat Lone is drawn back into the Muslim community that has both raised and rejected him, with his political ambitions tied to events he can only imperfectly control.

Continue reading


Return of the links

I beefed up my RSS feeds to make up for going on Twitter hiatus, and luckily for me several of my subscriptions link me to interesting stuff.

The Awl has a terrific piece on time travel movies and books and how they are grounded in (mostly unacknowledged) white privilege:

Whether it’s Marty McFly in 1950s Hill Valley or Jake Epping in segregated Texas, the entire genre of American time-travel fantasy, with its chaos theory nerdery, butterfly-effect affectations, and desire to reshape the present, is irrevocably linked to the very real idea of white privilege. No narrative of time-travel makes this case more powerfully than Octavia Butler’s masterpiece “Kindred,” which both deconstructed and revolutionized the genre by using time travel to explore the experience of slavery and its lingering effects on the present.

Unlike Back to the Future and “11.22.63,” there is no clear mission to speak of in “Kindred,” at least not one that Dana, the black writer at the center of the novel, is aware of. The circumstances for her time travel are ambiguous and entropic and, for a while, aimless. No rabbit holes. No flux capacitors. The time travel just occurs, suddenly, to Dana, and soon, to her white husband. Butler’s point is not that we are better and more self-aware than the backwards people of the past, nor is it that the past only fills rooms with roaches and erases photographs of family members. Rather, it’s that the past can weigh on the present in devastating ways. “Kindred” reminds us that, for some protagonists, traveling back in time is the opposite of escapist fantasy. The past is alive, says “Kindred.” The past is us.

Next up, the wonderful, inimitable, invaluable Laurie Anderson in a wide-ranging interview at The Atlantic. She talks about politics, blockbuster Broadway musicals, and concerts for dogs (OMG she doesn’t love Hamilton! and is brilliant on Trump):

Continue reading


[I’m trying a new type of post, which WordPress calls “aside” posts. They’re supposed to be like notes, and this theme supports them, but they seem to look like every other post but without a title. Which is not really that helpful in distinguishing them from regular posts. So if you don’t see a title, it’s an Aside post.]

The GOP debate is so frustrating to me. On the one hand, this is five months before the first primaries, ten months before the last primaries, and nearly a full year before the Republican Party’s nominating convention. Most voters aren’t paying attention. The main people who care are scholars, political junkies, and media types who have to fill the 24/7 news hole. And you can probably add to that list, people who enjoy reality shows with a substantial humiliation component. Nate Silver observed that the correlation between GOP candidate standing and media coverage is .92, which almost entirely explains Donald Trump.

On the other hand, campaigns don’t run on votes, they run on money. And right now is when candidates are jockeying for donors. Not the you and me kind of donors, but the Koch and Soros kinds of donors. And if they don’t get money now, they won’t be around when the you and me donors (and voters) start to pay attention. So even though the whole enterprise feels like a sideshow with clowns, it has important consequences. However much we hate it, this is our circus (if you’re a US voter), and they’re kind of our monkeys.

I didn’t get into political science for politainment, but that seems to be the main course these days.

Still not watching, though.