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A Burning is a novel for our times and for all time.
A girl walks through the slums of Kolkata holding an armful of books. She returns home smelling of smoke, and checks her most prized possession: a brand-new smartphone, purchased in instalments. On Facebook, there is only one conversation.
On the small, glowing screen, she types a dangerous thing…
‘If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?’
Set in contemporary India, A Burning is the story of three unforgettable characters, all dreaming of a better future, whose lives are changed for ever when they become caught up in the devastating aftermath of a terrorist attack.
Jivan – a poor, young, Muslim girl, who dreams of going to college – faces a possible death sentence after being accused of collaborating with the terrorists.
Lovely – an exuberant hijra who longs to be a Bollywood star – holds the alibi that can set Jivan free, but telling the truth will cost her everything she holds dear.
PT Sir – an opportunistic gym teacher who once taught Jivan – becomes involved with Hindu nationalist politics and his own ascent is soon inextricably linked to Jivan’s fall.
Taut, propulsive and electrifying, from its opening lines to its astonishing finale, A Burning confronts issues of class, fate, prejudice and corruption with a Dickensian sense of injustice, and asks us to consider what it means to nurture big ambitions in a country hurtling towards political extremism.
Author: Megha Majumdar
Paperback Published 12 June 2020 304 pages
Read and Recommended by Hendri:
"'A Burning', which has received positive reviews in media, is such a rare work that stylistically combines literary thriller with an acute observation on poverty, moral corruption, state violence, and unfair criminal justice system. Fast-paced, action-packed, and suspenseful, Megha Majumdar is capable of showing contemporary India, along with the characters' interior lives and struggles, without using long, wordy, and verbose prose. Her extraordinary strength and talent also manifests clearly in how she engages and subsequently links mundane activities (i.e., making a Facebook post, circulating videos on Whatsapp, and attending a political party campaign) with life-changing opportunities and hopes. However, for the characters in this novel, a hijra (transgender woman), a struggling physical education teacher, and a poor Muslim sales-clerk, such hopes and opportunities can ironically spin out of control, pitting one against another. After the Muslim sales-clerk, Jivan, was arrested by the police because of her allegedly anti-government Facebook post, the teacher 'PT Sir' and the hijra 'Lovely' were put into an ethical dilemma: should they help Jivan at the cost of losing their only chance to enjoy a middle-class life, a life that they have been dreaming of since a long time ago? These three interconnected characters pose difficult yet important reflective questions in an era of widening inequality: what if we are also complicit in debilitating the others' lives? what if the victory of our identity comes at the expense of the others' identities?"