Book review by Dinh.
I love reading books that are set in different countries and show the values and cultures of that country. A Burning, a debut novel by Megha Majumdar piqued my interest because it is set in modern India.
Going in, I thought the book would be depressing, as books that I have read set in India are usually sad. There’s always the issue of poverty which shows the unfairness of life. Other than it being sad, I had no other expectations.
So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this book. Yes it was sad, but the story line was interesting and the author did a great job in weaving a tale that made me think.
Here’s what I loved about the book and why you should check it out!
Megha Majumdar spun a great fictionalized story set in contemporary India. The story line weaved together really well.
The story is based on three main characters whose lives are intersected at some point. Jivan is a young woman who works in retail at the mall, is a Muslim from the slums, and wants to become middle class.
At the start of the book, Jivan is accused of being a terrorist because of her one off-hand comment she posted on Facebook.
PT Sir is a school gym teacher who aspires for a better life. The cost of reaching PT Sir’s dreams hangs on Jivan’s demise.
Lovely is a hijra and aspires to be a movie star. She has the alibi that can help Jivan get out of jail but it will cost her dreams.
One of the best thing I love about this book is how each of these characters had such a distinct voice.
Each chapter reveals a bit more of the main characters from their perspective. I found Lovely’s inner thoughts quite jarring at first because her inner voice comes out as broken English. After a while though, the way her thoughts were expressed just became her voice.
Another aspect of the book that worked well was the great pace and tone of the book. The chapters are mainly in Jivan, PT Sir or Lovely viewpoint, with some interludes, and are short. Majumdar writes succinctly and so to the point. Because of the interesting story line and the short chapters the book moved really quickly.
I also really enjoyed the interludes. The interludes augmented the story by giving the reader a look at the other players in the story and helped the overall picture of the book. The fate of Jivan’s life was determined by a multitude of factors, not just by the few obvious factors.
Moreover, I loved this book for the great themes it had, such as political ambition, class division, poverty, power, gender, friendship, to name a few.
I liked how it highlights class division and gender struggles and how easily it is to steer off one’s morals. It is very easy to be seduced when your dreams are given to you. The question is, does everyone have a price?
All three character were interesting and yet very different from each other. I could relate to their situation and emphasized with their struggles.
My favorite character was the marginalized Lovely. I didn’t know about hijras so was a bit confused about Lovely’s gender at first. It was later explained in the book. Lovely’s personality is captivating. She lives with passion and determination. She wants to be a movie star and goes to acting classes to achieve her dreams.
PT Sir was regular guy but changed with a bit of power. He succumbed to the dark side slowly, first from going to one rally and given compliments and some free food. Then by doing favors and getting monetary reward. The trajectory of his life was very clear. He wanted a comfy life and power and took what opportunities that came along regardless of the ethics.
Jivan’s ambition is to be middle class. She left school early so she could get a job and help support her parents. Accused of a crime she did not commit, Jivan was sent to jail even though there was no evidence to prove it. Jivan’s story highlights the corrupt system set in place.
I was very sad at the ending of the book. The ending was how it should have played out given PT Sir and Lovely’s flexible morals.
I knew what to expect with the ending but it was still sad. Like I said before, books that I’ve read that are set in India tend to end with an unhappy note.
My Final Thoughts
I adored A Burning by Megha Majumdar for so many reasons! I loved the story line with the distinct voices of the main characters. The plethora of themes, had me totally absorbed in this quick read. For a book just about 300 pages it packs a big punch!
I highly recommend you to check it out!
Belong to a book club? Check out A Burning book club discussion questions!