First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
An electrifying debut novel, and a literary tour de force, about three unforgettable characters who seek to rise – to the middle class, to political power, to fame in the movies – and find their lives entangled in the wake of a catastrophe in contemporary India.
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 she posted on Facebook. P.T. Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party and finds that his own ascent depends on Jivan’s fall. Lovely – an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of Bollywood 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.
Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the strength of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting.
When I was crafting my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To at the start of the year, one of the books that created an impression was Indian-born writer Megha Majumdar’s A Burning. It was part of many similar lists that it didn’t take long for me to be persuaded in including the book in my own list. It took some time before I managed to purchase a copy but the wait was worthwhile.
A Burning is Majumdar’s debut novel. Recently, it was listed by Time Magazine in its 100 Must-Read Books of 2020. The list also included three other books from my 2020 Books I Look Forward to List. I guess this means I am on the right track. Or not really for the said list included Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel, a book I wasn’t really keen on. Nevertheless, A Burning is a book I am looking forward to because of all the positive feedback it has so far received.
Set in Majumdar’s native Kolkata, the titular “burning” revolves around a terrorist attack. A train plying the slum neighborhood caught fire, causing the death of over a hundred people. The gruesome crime was a national sensation and upon investigation, a young Muslim woman named Jivan was zeroed out as the suspect. What linked her to the crime? She was seen boarding the train with a suspicious box, she was in communication with a terrorist group recruiter, and she has been commenting in Facebook posts with unpatriotic sentiments.
On the foreground, the novel deals with heavy and dark subjects such as terrorism, racism, poverty, corruption, and discrimination. All these subjects made the narrative resonate on a universal scale. Whilst the narrative revolved mainly around Jivan and these seminal subjects, what made the narrative flourish is Lovely, a hijra, a third gender recognized in India. Her dreams, aspirations, and wit gave the story a different, lighter texture.
What I am struggling to uncover, so far, is P.T. Sir’s, Jivan’s former teacher, connection to Jivan and Lovely’s story/stories. I get the notion that it has got something to do with his affiliation with the right-wing faction. With its upbeat tempo and quick pace, I have less than 80 pages to read. I am slowly connecting the dots and although I am struggling with P.T. Sir’s role, I am already getting some hints. I am crossing my fingers that it would conclude as explosively as it started.
How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!