Review: A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Every now and again, a book comes along that reminds me precisely why I write book reviews. A book that reaches out, grabs me, surprises me, breaks my heart just a little and has me wanting to shout out to the world that everyone needs a copy of this book.

A Burning is such a book.

Set in contemporary India, it tells the story of Jivan, a young woman from the slums who finds herself charged with terrorism on the flimsiest of evidence, in a place that is desperate to find a scapegoat. For the attack was brutal--members of the public burned to death on a train--and the those responsible have long since fled. Jivan has found herself accused due to a flippant remark on facebook that criticises the government. Of course, it doesn't help matters that she is poor, female, muslim and she was carrying a package at the train station at the time that the attack took place.

Meanwhile, the stories of two other people become entwined with that of Jivan's. There is Lovely, a hirja* who aspires to work as an actor, and who is willing to go to court and testify what was in Jivan's package because she knows it is the right thing to do. Meanwhile, PT Sir, Jivan's former Phys Ed teacher finds himself enchanted by a political party, and the many advantages that come with being in the party. However, his rise to the top is not without plenty of collateral damage, most of it in the form of harming innocent people for political gain. 

A Burning is a heartbreaking novel that explores human nature at its most brutal--where ones success relies on the downfall of another, where innocent people can become scapegoats for political gain, where money talks, and where people are so easily led and swayed by a combination of patriotism, fear and empty promises of a better life. And though the novel is as faced paced as any thriller, it never lacks depth or stops asking big questions.

Of course, it is not for the likes of me, a book blogger, to suggest, or influence, or offer anything more than idle speculation about such important matters, so I will say that I would not be surprised if this novel is considered for the Booker Prize, whether that be on a long list, a short list or perhaps something even more wonderful. (But, as I have said, these important decisions are not up to me.) I suppose my ultimate point is that A Burning is a well written debut that will probably stay with readers from many different walks of life well after they turn the final page.

Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of A Burning

*In South Asia, hirja are people who are intersex, transgender or eunuchs. In 2014 they gained legal recognition as a third gender. Many are considered to be low status and live in the margins of society.


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