MALS Book Club
The MALS alumni Book Club meets once a semester in the fall and spring terms to discuss a selected reading under the skillful guidance of a Reed faculty member. Along with an engaging 2-hour conference, the Book Club is an opportunity to share interests with MALS alumni, prospective students, and faculty.
MALS Graduates Ponder Contemporary Conflict Set in Classical Frame
Following the Reed tradition of seeking links between classical and contemporary dilemmas, MALS graduates gathered in early April to examine Kamila Shamsie's use of the ancient tragedy, Antigone, as template for her novel, Home Fire (Penguin, 2017). Throughout the turns of the conversation, it became clear, as noted by Reed professor Jay Dickson, that Shamsie avoids the “overly programmatic” in finely-drawn associations and distinctions between her novel and Sophocles's play.
Dickson, a professor of Humanities and English, guided the discussion among graduates from Reed's MALS program, members of faculty and staff, and visitors interested in the nature of Reed literary conversation at the graduate level. The participants noted that Home Fire, like Antigone, features one father leaving a curse, two sons rebelling, one sister enflamed, another subdued, young lovers dead, and a stubborn leader seeing his error too late. But in her contemporary rendering, the Pakistani-British novelist Shamsi imagines the story within families of Muslims living in London, Karachi, Raqqa, and Amherst. In contrast to the unities of Sophocles's play, crafted in terms of family, faith, and city-state, and affirming ultimate authority in the gods, Shamsie's novel stimulates reflection on the diffusion of allegiances and the elusiveness of truth in a world of global citizens.
So the participants in our MALS exchange asked an array of questions about the form, substance, and ethical staging of Home Fire. Within Shamsie's global setting, we wondered about the voices of the media, whether they conveyed any sense of moral unity and authority, and whether power is most clearly exercised through mastery of the media? In Shamsie's contemporary world, is there any parallel to the authority of the Chorus, the seer-priest, and the gods in the Greek tragedy? What is it to be a man or a woman in such a world? Where do the young look for guidance? Does honoring the dead matter? What if that honoring of the dead does harm to the living? In Home Fire we found mostly splintered voices, multiple identities, mixed languages, uncertain roles, confused citizenships, and fractured allegiances amid much disorder and violence. Still, we discovered as well moments giving rise to the age-old desires for hope, for love, for peace.
—Jan Carpenter, MALS '14