Struggling to Breathe

What happens when you feel yourself being split between two worlds? Do you pick one or opt to transition between both for the rest of your life? In Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 novel “Home Fire”, she sheds light on young British Muslims trying to find their identities in a society that is telling them to hide their Muslim side. Parvaiz, the sole brother of the Pasha siblings, has always felt like he was in the shadow of his sisters. So when ISIS recruitment soldier Farooq finds him and fills his mind with with prospects of greatness and a sense of purpose, Parvaiz becomes torn between two worlds. Through the use of personification Shamsie encapsulates this conflict between his Muslim and British identity. 

Farooq shows Parvaiz pictures of men by the Euphrates river with promises of the caliphate being a paradise for muslims. All this newfound knowledge and temptations of belonging flip a switch in Parvaiz. The narrator states “increasingly his lungs did not know how to breathe the air of London”(Shamsie 150) followed by Farooq asking him numerous questions wondering how he could want to stay in a country that limits his freedom. The personification of the lungs being the things breathing instead of Parvaiz allow for a sort of separation between himself and his organ; this fuels the separation he has been feeling through the entirety of the novel. Here Parvaiz’s lungs appear to be in distress considering they can no longer breathe this “London air”. Lungs are vital organs we can’t live without; it’s simple if you can’t breathe you eventually die. By personifying the lungs as being a thing that’s slowly suffocating, Shamsie allows us to see the extent of Parvaiz’s distain for his currently life in London. It’s not just a simple dislike for his current living situation, but something that is equivalent to physically hurting or killing him. Suffocating is a slow and painful process that will turn deadly if not treated properly. Farooq tries to offer a “treatment” by persuading him to accompany him to the caliphate. Considering the physical and mental pain Parvaiz is experiencing it was no surprise he took Farooq up on his offer. 

By stating his lungs are suffocating due to the London air, we can interpret Parvaiz is beginning to resent his “London side”. After seeing a place where everyone embraced being Muslim in what appeared to be a brotherhood of men, his lungs began to yearn for the “liberating” smell of the caliphate air. It is here we see the shift from a British-Muslim to simply Muslim. It leaves us to wonder, why must he throw away one identity in order to embrace another? 


Works Cited:

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

One thought on “Struggling to Breathe

  1. This close analysis is really interesting as I never thought of Parvaiz’s lungs as separate from himself. I agree that Parvaiz feels torn, and I appreciate the analysis of his yearning for a “liberating” breath of Muslim air, versus his lungs’ struggle for breath in the London air. It’s interesting to separate the thoughts and yearning of the mind in comparison to physical body parts because then it begs the question: which do you follow? This analysis also reminds me of the “do I follow my heart or my mind?” situation because I can observe that Pairvaz wants to go with Farooq, but the logical thing is to not go. The analysis of his lungs suffocating is crucial because it depicts how both his body and his thoughts feel about being in a country that invalidates one identity over the other. How then is one supposed to live comfortably between two identities?

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