A Burning


An unfortunate comment on Facebook lands Jivan in jail, accused of supporting terrorism. The absurd situation escalates quickly and the girl is soon threatened with life sentence. A Burning pulls you in and upsets you from the get-go. It reads like a thriller despite its serious theme and sociopolitical commentary. The story is narrated from three points of view, including Jivan, her PE teacher — a sleazy type who, by happenstance, becomes a high ranking official of a nationalist populist party, and Lovely — a hijra dreaming of an acting career, who took English lessons from Jivan. Their perspectives, characters and paths are very different, but each catches the reader’s attention immediately.

The scope of interest of this debutante author resembles monumental novels of classics such as Hugo or Dickens. Her selection of themes is likewise impressive, but the well-controlled structure allows for proper presentation of this richness of topics. A Burning is filled with full-blooded characters who sometimes put us off, sometimes win our sympathy. Behind a compelling narrative, Majumdar put profound reflections on morality, class, caste, democracy, politics, the condition of the Indian state and the justice system.

And on top of all this, the book is an excellent portrayal of a city — modern Calcutta is shown as a hostile place, where ordinary people are led astray by vain promises, and where a happy end can only happen when a miracle is present. Either this, or very peculiar type of cleverness.

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