A Burning #BookReview

Megha Majumdar | pub: June 2020

304pp.

GoodReads Summary:

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 on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovely–an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of 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.

My Experience:

Wow. What a beautiful, sad story. I finished this moments ago and though typically, I like to live with a book a bit before I write my experience, I’ve decided to go ahead and write my first impressions.

This story is centered on 3 characters and how their lives intermingle around a terrorist act that takes place on a local train. Jivan, is a young girl, living in the slums of India, with dreams of one day being an ordinary middle class girl, in college. She is frustrated with the circumstances of her life: her father has a broken back and can no longer work, her mother starts an illegal business selling breakfast to locals in the morning but is routinely harassed, Jivan must stop going to school in an attempt to help the family, the home they live in does not have clean water snd the owner refuses to fix it, there seems to be no way out. One day, after a terrorist attack on a local train that has left hundreds dead, Jivan conversing with a new online friend, leaves a reckless comment on Facebook that leads to her arrest for the attack. She believes the error can be easily resolved but, unfortunately, becomes a cog in a much larger wheel.

Lovely, is a trans woman with dreams of being a star actress. Jivan brings packages of books to Lovely’s home, to assist in teaching her english in the afternoons. Once Jivan is captured, she requests her lawyer and mother search for Lovely, in hopes this will explain why she is seen with packages on the train. Eventually, Lovely offers a rousing testimony in court for Jivan that leads to her getting recognized by talent scouts and directors. The unfortunate thing is, Lovely may have to distance herself from Jivan in order to reach her goal of being a star.

Lastly, we have PT Sir, a previous teacher of Jivans with dreams of being a political player in his region. While Jivan was in his class he recognized her life was probably tough and would go out of his way to help her, buying her lunch and being nice. When Jivan leaves school without so much as a farewell to him, he internalizes it and takes offense. Like Lovely, Sir has an opportunity to help Jivan but realizes it will cost him his dream of being involved in politics.

Of all the characters, I disliked PT Sir the most. I dislike folks with his sort of character in real life so thats no surprise to me here. Selfish people oblivious to their selfishness, making everything about themselves. And they have a justification for every selfish act. This poor girl has to stop going to school to help her mum and he’s bothered because she didnt wish him farewell. Later, in a horrific scene where a mob attacks and kills a family for eating beef, but later, finds no beef in evidence of the crime, PT rationalizes that ‘he’ didn’t physically participate in the crime so its fine. He shouldn’t bare the burden of the act. Horrible. Just like watching a black man slowly killed in the street by a cop and you say nothing..worst yet, you defend his killers. Horrible. I hate you people. #iDigress

This is the writers first book and as with most debuts, there are some pretty significant gaps. PT Sir’s wife is not developed but, she plays a significant role in his life. Initially disturbed about the mob attack, he tells her about it but, we are not witness to the conversation or outcome. I also would have liked to learn more about Lovely and her role in society. With all the misogynistic tones, seems a waste to have a trans character without exploring the impact of being trans in her environment.

Im reading this on the heels of The Henna Artist. I think Majumdar paints a more accurate picture of class, poverty, misogyny and the pressures of politics and public opinion in India. This book, like The Henna Artist does paint colorful imagery describing materials – gold flecked sari’s and dupattas, and food – thick curries, roti, and biryani. Sadly, the same vibrancy is used to describe the jail that holds Jivan – dark brown roaches running from the toilets and dirty bathroom floors.

It was quick, beautiful, sad read and I enjoyed it very much. This would definitely be a great story for a book club to deep dive themes of class, familial obligation, the role of young women in underdeveloped country’s and voting reform…just to name a few. This book touched on so many issues all relevant today! I great book to binge read over a weekend. Goodbook 17 of 46.

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