Monday, September 28, 2020

A Burning - Megha Majumdar

Summary: Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan's fall. Lovely--an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humor--has the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear. Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  This is the kind of book that’s terrifying—terrifying in that things escalated so quickly that it seems almost ridiculous, but also plausible.

Because this book takes place in India, it seems like it would be easy to say that this is the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen in the U.S. Although I’d like to think that there are many parts of this story that will not happen here, I know that there are definitely parts of the story that would. A simple statement, one made just to get comments and likes, and the consequences are so dire that it was frightening.

I felt like the story was well-written, and I enjoyed the rotating points of view. Each chapter was told from a different rotating cast of characters, and I always enjoy that writing choice because I like to see what each of the characters is contributing to the story in their own way. I especially enjoy it when an author is able to make each voice distinct, which Majumdar did a good job of doing. If the characters have muddled voices in each chapter it’s easy to get confused (especially if you stop in the middle of a chapter), but with strong, distinct voices this isn’t an issue. Majumdar’s characters have distinct voices and their stories were interesting and very varied, which kept me interested and reading. Because this is a fairly short book, it didn’t take me long to read the whole thing. The chapters are short and consumable, which makes the story movie quickly.

This was an eye-opening book to me. I’m not well-versed in India and Indian culture, and the insights I learned from this were so interesting. This book is also tragic in so many ways—it isn’t something that is easily ignored. Even though there are many things in this book that aren’t familiar in U.S. culture, there were plenty that were reminiscent of what is going on here, and the choices that people make that affect others and the culture as a whole.

This is the kind of book that I think is very relevant to today. Unfair trials, political favors, one person’s fate being sacrificed for the “greater good” are all things that we are trying to understand and dissect together as a nation. When we look at other places and see ourselves reflected, and also see things we could be doing or should not be doing, it is important. Books like this that are so sharp and poignant are important for a generation to read who wants to make changes, and wants to know how to make them and where to start.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is violence and strong class system biases, as well as language.

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