Hi everyone! Today I’m back with another review, although straying a little from my usual content, with a review of A Burning by Megha Majumdar, a stunning, heartbreaking debut novel that absolutely blew me away!
Title: A Burning
Author: Megha Majumdar
Genre: Literary fiction, Contemporary, Adult
Rating: 5 Stars
Synopsis: 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.
A Burning follows three protagonists – Jivan, a Muslim girl, living in the slums who is accused of committing a terrorist attack on a train, alongside PT Sir, a sports teacher at a local girls school who finds himself involved with a right wing opposition party, and Lovely, a trans woman looking for her big break as an actress – both of whom could save Jivan from her fate. Although I am not a big literary fiction reader, I was particularly drawn to this book after seeing Chaima’s gorgeous review. I had very high expectations for this novel and they were most definitely met – this is a beautifully written, heartbreakingly melancholy debut novel that I would highly suggest to anyone wanting to get into the literary fiction genre.
Megha Majumdar’s writing is simultaneously extremely beautiful and very simple. I found her writing style to be very accessible which, unfortunately, is not the case with many literary fiction books. Paired with gorgeous food descriptions and the fantastic worldbuilding, this book was a delight to read. Despite the story being told from three different perspectives, each character had their own vibrant, individual voices that shone through the narrative. I often find literary fiction novels to be quite slow and I usually find myself losing interest rather early on, but it was absolutely not the case with this novel – I was increasingly invested in each character’s story and how their lives intertwined.
The three main plotlines are expertly interwoven, with a couple of interludes featuring various side characters, including Jivan’s parents and a rather angry mob. Jivan is a young woman who one day finds herself, whilst delivering English textbooks to Lovely, at the scene of a terrorist attack. After posting comments on Facebook comparing the government to terrorists, she is wrongly accused of being the perpetrator of this attack. Her story was particularly hard to read, as we see the cruel injustice of the legal system and the corruption of the media surrounding her case. Running parallel to her story, we also see PT Sir, a physical education teacher, becoming embroiled in a right wing opposition party after offering to fix a microphone at a rally he stumbles upon. Seeing his rise in the party ranks and the terrible lengths he goes to gain power was a shocking story to read alongside that of Jivan, particularly as we see how his story tips the balance in Jivan’s story. Finally, we have Lovely – perhaps my favourite character in the book. Lovely works alongside other trans women blessing babies and couples whilst also attending acting classes on the side, hoping for her big break in a movie. She was being tutored in English by Jivan before the latter was accused of executing the attack, and also finds her story intertwined with the other two protagonists. Lovely’s story, perhaps, has the happiest ending, and it is what she deserved. At times she offered a sort of comedy relief to the book, what with her quick quips, but she also faces great hardships too. It was very interesting to see the tale through these three, very different, characters’ eyes, and I think the choice of these narrators was particularly clever.
The book is set in Kolkata, India, and predominantly features the slums and more lower to middle class areas. The three main characters start out in the slums, but we slowly get to see PT Sir rise above this, whereas Jivan and Lovely remain in their poorer backgrounds. Class and privilege are two of the main themes in this book, alongside power, corruption and religion. Aside from PT Sir’s rise in the party ranks and in his class status, we see the juxtaposition of class in Jivan’s story, for example, as she boards a bus to the city for the first time, or when she wishes she was as rich as a man she sees on the street before realising he is, in fact, only middle class, and in Lovely’s as she is relegated to the B-List actors’ food area. As I have previously mentioned, we see PT Sir’s rather unethical rise through the party ranks, and in turn, the corruption of the courts and the press, which also impacts on Jivan and Lovely’s stories. Jivan is a muslim, and we see some rather horrific islamophobia throughout the novel; not only towards Jivan, but also the rape and murder of the only Muslim family living in a village, who is wrongfully accused of killing and eating a cow. As a result, this book is very difficult to read at times, but ultimately a very important read, particularly in the current political climate.
Overall, this book blew me away, and I think it will be enjoyed by staunch literary fiction lovers and those eager to get into the genre alike. This is a very strong debut and I can’t wait to see what Megha Majumdar releases in the future!