Two really good reads: Educated and Home Fire
Following on from the previous double-helping post of viewing delights, I’ve got another pair of recommendations for you, and this time they’re both books. Powerful, engrossing and unforgettable books that make perfect reading for a chilly winter day (or any other time of day or year for that matter.)
Both highlight the invidious influence of extreme, and entirely different, religious views. But don’t let that put you off. They are both absorbing and compelling in equal, hugely satisfying, measure.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Holy hellfire. Sometimes a book grabs you from the first pages, wraps itself around your emotions and sensibilities, and doesn’t let you go until the final paragraph. This is one of those books.
It tells the story of siblings Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz and the dark secret that binds and then tragically divides them, whilst exploring the fierce devotion of sibling love. This is a book that will uncomfortably challenge your views and prejudices about radicalisation, and have you shifting ever-closer to the edge of your seat, right up to the final, shocking twist on the very last page. (If you are someone who checks out the end of a book before, or whilst you’re reading it, I urge you - DON’T!)
Home Fire was shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Award and Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and rightly so. This is fearless, brilliant, thought-provoking writing of the highest order. A book that will resonate in your head for so many different reasons for a long time after you reach that last unforgettable page.
Educated by Tara Westover
is a very different proposition. For a start, it’s a memoir not a novel. But it shares the same wonderfully top notch quality of writing, and is equally revealing and challenging about the distorting power of extremist views and the deep strength of familial love.
Tara grew up in rural Idaho, the youngest of seven children, with a father - an increasingly radical and dogmatic Mormon - who held a powerful sway over his family and an even more powerful grip on his belief in the coming of the End of Days, for which he endlessly prepares. Furiously suspicious of authority, government and any kind of societal organisations, Tara’s birth was never registered, she never went to school and had no medical records because her father doesn’t believe in hospitals. (Her mother becomes an increasingly skilled, self-taught midwife and herbalist, an expertise which is called critically into play many times in her family’s, sometimes horrifyingly close to tragic, health experiences).
Seeing a way out
Showing astonishing resilience and determination, Tara sees that her future lies beyond the confines of her impoverished upbringing, and beyond the increasingly threatening (physically as well as mentally) influence of her father and unpredictably violent brother. She determines to get to college and seek out the education, and the life in the wider world, that has been denied her.
How she does that, and how she reconciles her need for self-preservation and growth whilst struggling with the inherent conviction that doing so betrays all she has been raised to believe in, is what makes this brave, honest and ultimately deeply loving and hearteningly triumphant story so unforgettable.
If Home Fire pins you to the edge of your seat, Educated will have you jumping up on to it and punching the air.
I’d love to know what you think of these when you read them, or if you already have. And what do you recommend I read next?
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