Kamila Shamsie sheds light on cultural highlights


–The Home Fire author on the all-female Ocean’s 8, Springsteen, and the clashing Wimbledon and World Cup finals

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Kamila Shamsie studied creative writing in the US before moving to the UK in 2007. Her first novel, In the City By the Sea, was published in 1998. Her fifth, Burnt Shadows, was shortlisted for the Orange prize for fiction and has been translated into more than 20 languages. In 2009 she published a work of nonfiction, Offence: The Muslim Case. Her seventh novel, Home Fire, was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker prize and last month won the Women’s prize for fiction 2018.

In an interview with The Guardian, she revealed some of her likings:

  1. Fiction: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I spend the months before the publication of a new Michael Ondaatje novel trying to keep my expectations in check, telling myself it’s simply unfair to expect as much of any writer as I expect from Ondaatje. Then he pulls off a Warlight, and I’m embarrassed by my own lack of faith. Set just after the second world war, the novel follows an adolescent boy whose mysterious parents take off for Singapore (or do they?), leaving him and his sister “in the care of two men who may have been criminals”. The story that follows is surprising, delightful, heartbreaking and written as only Ondaatje could write it.

  1. Restaurant: Hoppers, St Christopher’s Place, London W1

I first discovered the Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers soon after it opened in Soho, and was immediately ready to commit myself to set up camp there – only for the rest of London to come to the same conclusion, which made it an act of great strategic thinking to work out how to get a table (they don’t take reservations). In an act of great benevolence, the people behind Hoppers have opened a second restaurant in St Christopher’s Place which does take reservations. I particularly recommend the Jaffna beef rib fry.

  1. Sport: Wimbledon/World Cup face-off

Football isn’t my sport. Never has been. But every few years I forget this for the duration of the World Cup and have been known to stay up till all hours in different parts of the world, passionately committed to whatever side I choose to back (I never know who it’ll be until I start watching). Tennis, on the other hand, has always been my sport, particularly when it comes to Wimbledon. And never more so than with Roger Federer playing. With the men’s final due to collide with the World Cup final on 15 July, and crucial matches in both tournaments in the week before, I’m already exhausted by the choices I’ll have to make.

  1. Film: Ocean’s 8

Is it the greatest heist movie ever made? Certainly not. But the joy of watching those women on screen, dreaming up a con, was completely thrilling. The homoerotic subtext between Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock was a particular delight. If you don’t want to see this for what it clearly is, fine, this is a heist movie – and the heist is, it should be said, very enjoyable. But we’ll have to be living in a far better world before we can watch it without thinking primarily about how rare and glorious it is to have such a film so populated by women.

  1. Music: Bruce Springsteen (everything by)

My sister and I recently took a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas via three canyons (Grand, Zion, Bryce). We’d not paid sufficient attention before we set off to the matter of our often differing musical tastes, and there were stretches of the drive where the background music was silence because we could not find a compromise. Then we hit upon Bruce Springsteen. “Which album?” she said. “All of them!” I answered. And we joyfully drove through the red rock landscape listening to State Trooper [from Nebraska] and The River and Born to Run and, and, and…

  1. Place: Bryce Canyon, Utah

I am forever indebted to the American friend who told me that if I was going to the Grand Canyon I had to make the 280-mile round trip over to Bryce as well. (In American terms, of course, that’s just next door.) While the Grand is the most spectacular canyon in terms of size, Bryce Canyon is almost otherworldly. The red rock against blue skies is dizzying enough in its beauty, but made even more extraordinary by the thousands of rock spires called hoodoos that rise up from the floor of the canyon – which isn’t really a canyon, but rather a series of amphitheatres formed by nature. It takes your eyes a while to believe what they’re looking at – it’s that awe-inspiring, it’s like nothing else.