“If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?”
As the title of Megha Majumdar’s debut novel implies, A BURNING is a blaze of a book that burns brightly from start to finish. The story begins after a terrorist attack on a train in Kolkata leaves hundreds dead and follows the ripples of the tragic event. Told from three intertwined perspectives, A BURNING is a powerful social commentary on life in contemporary India.
The center of the story is Jivan: a young, Muslim woman living in the Kolkata slums. After the terrorist attack, Jivan takes to Facebook to post a critique on the government (quoted at the top). Due to Jivan’s post the police take her into custody, beat her until she signs a confession, and send her to jail to wait to be tried as a terrorist. Bound to Jivan’s fate are our two other main characters: Lovely and PT Sir. Lovely is a young hijra (a third gender recognized in India) whose goal is to become a Bollywood star and PT Sir is the gym teacher from Jivan’s school who is recruited by a rightwing political party. Both Lovely and PT Sir’s future successes are tied directly to Jivan’s case and whether or not they choose to help confirm her innocence.
The greatest strength of A BURNING are the vivid and unique main characters. Since so much of the focus of the story is the motivations of Lovely, PT Sir, and Jivan – to rise to fame, to gain power, and simply just to survive – strong and believable character development was essential. Majumdar crafted these interesting and complex characters very well and gave the reader a deep understanding of and connection to each.
Though A BURNING is without doubt a story about life in contemporary India, the overarching themes about race, poverty, politics, and a desire to rise above your station in a society that is against you are universal! A BURNING is a fabulous debut novel from a promising debut author and a thrill to read from start to finish!
**Knopf provided the book for honest review
- Title: A Burning
- Author: Megha Majumdar
- Published: June 2, 2020 (Knopf)
- Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Own Voice
- Booky Nooky Rating: * * * 1/2