I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy and heritage recently. For the most part, this rumination has been centred on how to preserve and honour the past, but after recently reading Home Fire, I’ve been turned on to the opposite question: what happens if your legacy is something you want, you need to escape?
Kamila Shamsie’s novel is about many things—duty, family, modernity, and geopolitics among them—but a central concern revolves around the notion of a new generation trying to distance itself from the reputation of the previous one. Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz may be the children of a famed fighter for the Islamic State, but that is not their legacy; instead, they are doing what they can to create their own.
I am reminded of this when I read about the way some news media have been treating Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is running for Congress in this election. His grandfather, whom Campa-Najjar disavows vehemently, was one of the Munich terrrorists, and died sixteen years before Ammar was born. Yet, some media outlets continue to tie his campaign to the actions of his grandfather; they are trying to tie his legacy to a disavowed heritage.
How do you separate yourself from the mistakes, the horrors of the ones that came before you? What does it mean to share the name, the blood of someone whom you disavow, discredit; what does it mean to want to distance yourself from the generations who were supposed to know better, but obviously didn’t?
In Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie asks these questions, but does not answer them. Her characters grapple with their heritage in different ways, but in the end the question remains: we are different than those that came before us, so how do we make sure that the path we carve makes that difference clear?