Firstly, a huge thanks to Simon and Schuster and NetGallery for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
CW: violence, murder, implied sexual assault, islamaphobia
Set in contemporary India, A Burning follows the stories of Jivan, a Muslim girl wrongly imprisoned on terrorism charges after a status she posted on Facebook; Lovely, a girl determined to become an actress but has to make an important decision to save her career or to save herself; lastly there is PT Sir, a teacher who aspires to be more even if that means joining a right-wing political party to get there…
This novel is primarily told through the perspectives of Jivan, Lovely and PT Sir, although the characters are all linked together through Jivan and the terrorist attack, they are all very different. The novel opens with Jivan and at first I found myself thinking how silly she was, trying to get more likes on Facebook after the Kalbagan terrorist attack, which ultimately backfires in the worst way. However, you’re very quickly reminded that she is just behaving in the same way a lot of teenage girls do and she isn’t really the one at fault but the society that she finds herself in. As the novel progresses and we witness the severe consequences of this one status, you can’t help but want to protect her and root for her as she faces injustice. Although I may not have agreed with other decisions she makes (eg. the interview), I could understand why she was doing it and still hoped that it would all work out for her.
When it comes to the other protagonists, at first it feels as though Lovely’s perspective is the more light hearted (almost comic relief with how she easily confronts the gazes of lecherous men) and, compared to the stories of Jivan and PT Sir, it is. However, there is so much more depth to her and her story that you find yourself rooting for her too. I really liked how her personality is crafted, she is a very memorable character. In particular, what stands out the moot to me is how fiercely she defends Jivan at the beginning. This dedication is somewhat mirrored in PT Sir’s chapters where he is doing everything he can to support Bimala Pal in her political campaign, although unlike Lovely, from the start you could see his selfish intentions outright. I was fascinated to watch him get sucked in deeper and deeper into the world of politics and how people believe they have good intentions, when they are, in fact, very twisted.
Although these characters are all different, a similarity that we see between them in how they are exploited by other people. Obviously, in some cases it ends much worse than in others but I thought that it is very clever the way that Majumdar illustrates the various ways people are taking advantage of, regardless of whether they realise it or not. Not only that but, we see how certain characteristics (eg. gender and religion) determines the outcomes for those characters and whether they are able to benefit from others town advantage. Of course, I already had some kind of idea that this was the case in India but reading the accounts of very authentic characters really highlights and allows the reader to understand the hardships and decisions people are faced with.
I enjoyed how the novel would alternate between the different perspectives as it does a great job of emphasising the contrast between all of the characters. However amongst these perspectives are a collection of interludes to give you a snapshot of other people involved in this story and provides additional insight on how other people are impacted by the events that the central protagonists are going through. Towards the end of the novel there is a particularly harrowing interlude chapter which was a difficult read. Especially when you realise that similar events happen in reality too.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and the characters who were crafted to tell it. This was a very powerful novel which left me in tears by the end and deep in thought. This is a must read of 2021 and I win certainly be keeping an eye on what Majumdar does next.