I finished reading this book eight days ago and have been struggling to write some kind of coherent review that fully expresses how I felt. The thing is this book made me feel so strongly in a way that books rarely do; I was overcome by such a storm of emotion that I needed to take a step back before I could formulate a review. That alone should tell you how much I loved this book.
So, in short, this is a modern-day retelling of Antigone set in England with an all-Muslim cast of characters. I read Antigone for the first time approximately an hour before starting this book. I liked the play, but it’s also very difficult to get much emotion out of plays (personally, anyway) so I wasn’t swept away. Then I read this book, which is a surprisingly literal adaptation (that is, the central conflict is the same) that leads up to one of the most tragically beautiful ending scenes I have ever read.
There is so much nuance here that can be interrogated, thanks to Shamsie choosing to make the entire cast Muslim. As she highlights how each and every character is affected by Islamophobia she also touches on corrupt states, imperialism, injustice, and alienation. But all of it is being dealt with by Muslim characters with varying degrees of religiosity, creating a tapestry of diverse experiences that is not often portrayed in mainstream media.
I was surprised by how much I related to all the characters. The book is told in five different perspectives, and I felt like Shamsie did a superb job digging into their mindsets and motivations. Even though these characters are meant to embody the archetypes put forth in the original Sophocles play they still felt real and human to me, and I think this book actually made me appreciate the play much more.
Personally, as someone of Muslim background, I identified strongly with many of the issues brought up in the book with regards to Islamophobia and religiosity, which I think is an added reason why I was so deeply affected by this book. But aside from that there is also the quietly beautiful writing, which featured some truly gorgeous turns of phrases, and there is the ending, which absolutely blew me away. I knew it was coming, having read the play, but I still wasn’t prepared for exactly how it went down; the last lines of this book absolutely wrecked me.
I also want to mention that I read this book in one day, in one sitting, which I hardly ever do, especially not with adult contemporary books. There is just something so compelling, so deeply affecting, about this narrative, that I couldn’t put it down. This is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.