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Kamila Shamsie interview

Kamila Shamsie interview

In this Man Booker Prize 2017 longlisted author interview Kamila Shamsie tells us she couldn’t live in a world that makes her choose between Midnight’s Children and The English Patient, and what drew her to Sophocles' Antigone which her novel Home Fire reimagines.

What has it been like to be longlisted?

I can’t imagine a writer who wouldn’t be exhilarated to find herself on the Man Booker longlist, but in my case that exhilaration was perhaps even greater than it might otherwise have been because the novel isn’t yet out. These weeks of leading up to publication are always a period of wondering how the book will fare on its arrival in the world - the words ‘Man Booker longlisted’ do a great deal to erase most anxieties around that question. The Man Booker also carries particular personal meaning - when I was growing up in Karachi, pre-internet and pre-the very good English language bookstores that you can now find there, my mother always made a point of finding out which books were up for the Booker and trying to get hold of them. So my knowledge of contemporary fiction of the 80’s was largely shaped, at the time, by choices made by the Booker judges.

What are you working on next?

Something that appears either bizarre or envy-inducing to anyone who hears of it. I’m reviewing the cricket books of the year for the Wisden Almanack - so for the next few months I have to read through thousands of pages of cricket-writing.

What are you reading at the moment?

Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins.

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

I wouldn’t want to live in a world that makes me choose between Midnight’s Children and The English Patient.

Out of all the Greek stories, what was it that drew you most to Sophocles' Antigone?

At first, it was the story of an individual taking on a state that appealed to me. It seemed to lend itself so easily to a contemporary story of a fight against injustice. But the longer I thought about it, and the more translations I read, the more it struck me as a play that was about grief and the unequal ways in which people love each other. I suppose that’s when it really took form as a novel - when it stopped being a play primarily driven by an abstract idea and became equally embedded in human emotions. 

Home Fire