A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Firstly, a huge thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGallery for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:
07/01/2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre:
Contemporary Fiction

CW: violence, murder, implied sexual assault, islamaphobia

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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.

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Review

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.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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