“A Burning” by Megha Majumdar is a thought-provoking debut novel that explores the complexities of contemporary Indian society through the intertwined stories of three characters. Set in Kolkata, the novel opens with a terrorist attack on a train that kills over a hundred people. Jivan, a Muslim girl who dreams of becoming an actress, is wrongly accused of being involved in the attack after she makes a critical comment on Facebook. Her fate becomes intertwined with that of Lovely, a hijra (transgender) woman who is desperate to rise out of poverty, and PT Sir, Jivan’s former gym teacher who is trying to advance his political career.
The novel tackles a range of issues, including the injustices faced by marginalized communities in India, the influence of social media on public opinion, and the corrupt nature of politics. Majumdar’s writing is precise and powerful, and she skillfully weaves together the different perspectives and plotlines to create a gripping narrative. The characters are vividly drawn, and the reader is drawn into their struggles and desires.
One of my favorite characters in the book is Lovely, whose story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. She faces discrimination and violence as a hijra, but she refuses to give up on her dreams of success and recognition. Her resilience and determination are admirable, and her story sheds light on the challenges faced by the transgender community in India.
One of my favorite passages in the book occurs when Jivan reflects on her own identity and her place in society:
“I’m not sure if I’m poor or middle-class. Maybe it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re all caught in a system that’s rigged against us. That’s what I’m thinking about as I lie here, in this cell. About how we’re all so small, and the forces that control our lives are so big.”
This passage encapsulates the novel’s central theme of the individual’s struggle against larger societal forces. Despite the challenges they face, Jivan, Lovely, and PT Sir refuse to give up on their dreams and their beliefs. “A Burning” is a powerful and timely novel that offers a nuanced perspective on contemporary India and the struggles of its people.
“A Burning” has garnered critical acclaim since its release, and has been hailed as a must-read debut novel. It was longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, and was also selected as a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. The novel has been praised for its compelling characters, its exploration of important social issues, and its gripping plot.
Interestingly, Megha Majumdar began writing “A Burning” while she was studying for her MFA at the University of Texas at Austin. She initially intended to write a short story, but the story grew in length and complexity until it became a full-length novel. Majumdar has said that she was inspired by the injustices she saw around her in India, and that she wanted to explore the lives of people who are often overlooked or marginalized in society. The result is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that offers a unique perspective on contemporary India.