Book Review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I grabbed a copy of Burnt Sugar shortly after the Booker 2020 longlist was announced, seeing it taking off all of a sudden. The story investigates the dysfunctional relationship between a mother, Tara, and daughter, Antara, living in the Indian city of Pune after Tara’s memory starts to fail.

I had high expectations, seeing it’s sudden popularity boost, but have to admit I was slightly underwhelmed and left with mixed impressions. Stylistically this book is great – I liked the writing style and I think Doshi manages to be distinct in her writing without doing anything too bizarre – however, I just didn’t quite click with the story and was left with a slightly dissatisfied feeling at the end.

The book is made up of two alternating story lines, one telling the story of Antara’s unusual childhood, and the other in the present day, when Tara’s memory begins to fail and Antara is fully grown. Tara left Antara’s father to go to the ashram (a spiritual hermitage or monastery in India) after becoming the lover of a guru, taking Antara with her but remaining largely absent. The knock-on effects of Antara’s upbringing are explored in the second storyline, where Antara is forced to take on a more prominent role in her mother’s life.

I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.

Anvi Doshi

This book was definitely an interesting study of the long-lasting impacts of child neglect and I think with further analysis there may be a lot of deeper observations to be made. I suspect there is more to this book under the surface than is apparent . I wouldn’t describe this book as enjoyable but I do think it’s an interesting read. I enjoyed the childhood storyline much more than the adult storyline as I found the latter disjointed and Antara’s thoughts hard to follow.

You can buy a copy from your local independent bookshop through Hive here!



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