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A Burning

(10 customer reviews)

$15.00$25.95

by Megha Majumdar

Synopsis

A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK!

For readers of Tommy Orange, Yaa Gyasi, and Jhumpa Lahiri, an electrifying debut novel 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 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.

Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism. An extraordinary debut.

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About this book

228 Pages
4 - 5 Hours to read
62k Total words

Description

A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK!

For readers of Tommy Orange, Yaa Gyasi, and Jhumpa Lahiri, an electrifying debut novel 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 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.

Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism. An extraordinary debut.


  • Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; June 2020
  • ISBN: 9780525658702
  • Title: A Burning
  • Author: Megha Majumdar
  • Imprint: Knopf
  • Language: English

In The Press

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

One of the most anticipated books of summer by the New York Times, the
Wall Street JournalEntertainment Weekly, Vogue, O, Elle, The Millions, Lit Hub

“Riveting…This is a novel of our pandemic times, an exploration of precarity in all its forms…Majumdar excels at depicting the workings of power on the powerless… Fate has rarely been so many-faced, so muscular, so mercurial, or so mesmerizing as it is in A Burning.”
—The New York Times Book Review [cover]

“Powerful… propulsive…This is a book to relish for its details, for the caress of the writer’s gaze against the world… The interplay of choice and circumstance has always been the playing field of great fiction, and on this terrain, a powerful new writer stakes her claim.”
—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

“The must-read novel of the summer… This all-consuming story rages along, bright and scalding… Majumdar demonstrates an uncanny ability to capture the vast scope of a tumultuous society by attending to the hopes and fears of people living on the margins. The effect is transporting, often thrilling, finally harrowing… Majumdar’s outrage is matched only by her sympathy for these ordinary people… [A Burning] is a damning critique of a culture that generates constant upheaval but no systemic change.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Immersive…masterly… the elements of a thriller are transmuted into prismatic portraiture… A Burning has a similar urgency of appeal [to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.] Its characters are at the very front of the stage, and we can feel their breath… Her spare plot moves with arrowlike determination…I can’t remember when I last read a novel that so quickly dismantled the ordinary skepticism that attends the reading of made-up stories. Early Naipaul comes to mind as a precursor, and perhaps Akhil Sharma’s stupendously vivid novel “Family Life.”… It’s only at the end of this brief, brave novel that one becomes fully aware of how broad its judgments have been, how fierce and absolute its condemnations. Through the gaps that open up among and behind these three characters, a large Indian panoply emerges.”
—James Wood, The New Yorker

“Powerful… a gripping thriller with compassionate social commentary…It’s hard not to feel intense heartache while reading “A Burning.” Majumdar’s powerful debut is carefully crafted for maximum impact, carving out the most urgent parts of its characters for the whole world to see. This novel rightfully commands attention.”
USA Today

“In her captivating debut novel A Burning, Megha Majumdar presents a powerful corrective to the political narratives that have dominated in contemporary India.”
—Time

“Propulsive…ambitious…beautiful and supple…heartbreaking.”  
The Boston Globe

“Remarkable…Early buzz is already comparing A BURNING to the work of modern literary stars . . . but the voice—or voices—here are entirely Majumdar’s own.”
—Entertainment Weekly

“Combines fast-paced plotting with the kind of atmospheric detail one might find in the work of Jhumpa Lahiri or Daniyal Mueenuddin. . . A highly compelling read”
—Vogue

““Majumdar’s explosive first novel is an intimate epic”
—O Magazine

“Unforgettable”
—Harper’s Bazaar

“A Burning by Megha Majumdar is quietly beautiful and devastating. Its tone and pacing are measured perfectly. It is as funny as it is sad. This book won’t let you go, and you won’t want it to end.”
—Tommy Orange

“A BURNING is an excellently crafted, utterly thrilling novel full of characters that I won’t soon forget.  Megha Majumdar writes about the ripple effects of our choices, the interconnectedness of our humanity, with striking beauty and clarity. A stunning debut.”
—Yaa Gyasi

“Megha Majumdar’s soon-to-be-published A Burning is the best debut novel I have come across in a long time. Somehow Majumdar succeeds in capturing the boundless energy and starry-eyed hopefulness of the country’s youth. A Burning signals the arrival of a new voice of immense talent and promise.”
—Amitav Ghosh

“Polyphonic…Lovely is a particular gem…brilliant”  
—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a novel of now: a beautifully constructed literary thriller from a rare and powerful new voice.”
—Colum McCann


About The Author

MEGHA MAJUMDAR was born and raised in Kolkata, India. She moved to the United States to attend college at Harvard University, followed by graduate school in social anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She works as an editor at Catapult and lives in New York City. A Burning is her first book. Follow her on Twitter @MeghaMaj and Instagram @megha.maj

Additional information

FORMAT

Hardcover, Paperback

10 reviews for A Burning

  1. Rohini B.

    This book suffered from the hype. It has great momentum, and the author has a good eye for detail and description, but I found it lacking in nuance and depth. The characters were flat, and I was especially frustrated at the choice of a transgender as one of the characters, following soon after such a choice in Arundhati Roy’s most recent novel. Could not see why this was critical to the story other than the easy poignancy her situation offers. The broken English used for her throughout also seemed an odd choice – I can understand it in dialog but not to describe her interior thoughts. The teacher’s trajectory and story were the most interesting and well-threshed out.

  2. mainlinebooker

    Though sent in contemporary India, the thoughts, feelings, and issues are universal truths that are reflected in today’s Black Lives Matter. The covid-19 epidemic has also pointed out the disparity and injustice in the world. How do you persist when you live in a society that does not recognize you while you have vast hopes and dreams for your future? How do you persist when you have an oppressive society that does not acknowledge who you are so you battle to rise above your circumstances? These ruminations are interwoven in this book as reflected in 3 characters who each have a distinct voice. Jivan, a Muslim girl, living in a Kolkata slum is accused of a terrorist crime she did not commit but was convicted and sentenced to jail. Where was the evidence and was she sentenced because of her poor underprivileged status ? Or was it religious circumstances observe in the religious struggles between the Hindus and Muslims? PT Sir is a teacher desirous of power and becomes attached to a right wing party and advances while compromising his values. Finally there is Lovely, a delightful hijra who though not book smart, lives with determination, wanting passionately to become a famous actress. They all know Jivan and their connection to her becomes an important strand. One of the threads that ties these characters together is their grit, inventiveness, and intelligence, something I have observed in my few times in India. This is a wondrous novel that highlights gender differences, class struggles, and the corruption of a system .Does anyone recognize this? Another do not miss book!

  3. KasaC

    This is a novel of today, a searing portrait of a land of millions through the intertwined stories of three representative individuals, all with modest aspirations. Central to the proceedings is Jivan, a young woman of the slums providing support to her family and hoping for a promotion to manager in a shop in a mall. Her former phys ed teacher, only identified as P.I. Sir, had seen her potential as above that of the other girls in the privileged school where she was a sort of scholarship student, who falls by accident into a life of political activism. Then there is Lovely, a hijra, Hindu for transvestite, who along with their sisters perform rituals such as baby and marriage blessings, but who has no doubt they’re going to be a revered Bollywood star. The tragedies and absurdities of these three lifes, enhanced by intermittent Greek chorals interludes, spin out in a highly readable, beautiful book that gives the most realistic impression of the India of today.

  4. TJO

    There are a variety of takeaways on this book. My primary thought as I read it was, “I’m so thankful to live in the USA!” The lifestyles of India portrayed in this book are sad, poor and hopeless.My takeaway:1. An innocent young woman is thrown into jail for a crime she did not commit—all because of her comment on social media. The people are demanding justice and they want someone arrested. The jail is described like something from the dark ages.2. Along comes the press—-which lies, twists the stories, tells half truths and incites the people to blame and hate with no interest in learning the truth. The press has their narrative and they control the people.3. Then there are the corrupt politicians who lie, bribe and coerce to achieve the judgments and sentences they want so they’ll gain votes, power and wealth.Sadly, when I think about it, this seems to be where our great country is headed if we do not research, listen and think for ourselves.

  5. Tammy Woodard

    books are supposed to make you feel something. This I why I give it 5 stars… It gave me very strong feelings of heartbreak, sadness and rage.

  6. Avid Reader

    As written in other reviews A Burning is a beautifully written and potent novel with several important themes. It truly captures the minds and hearts of each of the three main characters, as well as the spirit of the India that the author wants to present. Fair warning, what you will discover about human nature within these pages is not pretty. Although there are moments of levity and/or beauty, this is ultimately a very tragic story. It will leave you saddened and infuriated without the satisfaction of redemption. That said, A Burning is a brilliant commentary on human nature, familial love, politics and how fear and influence can dictate justice.

  7. WearyTraveler

    I don’t know what to say really. The book is pretty depressing, but really illuminating at the same time. I’ll leave it at that. Very easy to read, paints the major themes early, and not at all condescending or pretentious. A sad tale but worth every minute of your time.

  8. Mal Warwick

    Few of us who live in comfortable circumstances—or just about anyone else, in fact—in the Global North can fully appreciate the impact of poverty and official corruption that runs rampant in so many of the nations clustered in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This is the reality the debut novelist Megha Majumdar lays bare in A Burning, her riveting account of the consequences that flow from a terrorist act and India’s prevailing Hindu nationalism for three aspiring lower-class individuals in today’s Kolkata (Calcutta).A young woman reacts to official indifference to a terrorist actIn A Burning, the lives of three young Bengalis intersect in tragic and illuminating ways. Terrorists have torched a train halted at a station, and more than a hundred have died a terrible, fiery death. We are led to believe that the terrorists are Hindu nationalists and the victims predominantly Muslim. A young woman named Jivan posts a complaint on Facebook about the death of one of the victims that “policemen paid by the government watched and did nothing while this innocent woman lost everything. . . Doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?” Naturally, Jivan is arrested as an accomplice. After being beaten, she signs a confession at the police station.Three young Bengalis aspiring to a better lifeFor Majumdar’s two other subjects the terrorist act is merely background news. A hijra named Lovely is preoccupied with becoming a film star and has enrolled in an acting class. (In South Asia, hijras represent a third gender, including eunuchs, transgender, and intersex people.) Lovely knows Jivan and can’t believe the woman is guilty. And PT Sir—the PT stands for Physical Training, which he teaches at a private girl’s school—recognizes Jivan from press accounts and remembers her as a promising athlete on a scholarship at his school.The poison of Hindu nationalismIn all three cases, like hundreds of millions of others throughout the poorer nations of the world, Jivan, Lovely, and PT Sir aspire to the middle-class life that has been barred to their families. Jivan works as a clerk in a clothing store and is convinced she’ll soon be promoted to senior clerk. Lovely never wavers from her dream of film stardom and is desperate to catch a break. And PT Sir finds opportunities opening up for him when he wanders into a rally for a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party and catches the eye of a leading politician. And what both Lovely and PT Sir find they must do to advance their careers will in the end have tragic consequences for Jivan.Like few other works, nonfiction or not, A Burning exposes the harsh reality of life in India today for the overwhelming majority of its 1.2 billion people at a time when Hindu nationalism is in the ascendancy.What one literary critic wrote about this novelIf you’re familiar with these reviews, you must be aware that I complain about literary critics from time to time. And I can’t resist adding a note here about a review that appeared in the June 8 & 15, 2020 issue of The New Yorker by one James Wood. Following is a sentence—just one sentence, mind you—in which Wood describes a novel by William Faulkner and later applies it to Megha Majumdar’s.This novel, hovering somewhere between the older epistolary structure and pure dramatic monologue—between correspondence and a playscript—becomes magically liberated from the more burdensome narrative machinery, that wheezing apparatus of persuasion and pastness.Now, I defy you to explain to me what exactly this sentence means in twenty-five words or less of plain English. Take fifty, or even a hundred, if you must. FYI, the sentence in question contains thirty-four words. And I would ask, do you now understand why I am so critical of the critics? (No, I do not consider myself a literary critic. I review books, period.) End of diatribe.

  9. Ran Wang

    A Burning does so many things beautifully – a compelling momentum, believable characters and dialogue, believable action, and granular details that make reading the book feel like traveling, to someone else’s street, someone else’s home, in full texture as if you could feel the air on your skin and the actions all around you. It’s a book that feels exceptionally real.Jivan is a well-developed character whose personal ambitions, although simple, are thwarted by a system that doesn’t support some of her most basic needs. She has a striving and self-assurance over being able to create a more comfortable life for herself and her family. Unfortunately, her individual efforts may be crushed by the unequal and exploitative nature of her society.

  10. Bobby D.

    My wife ordered this book based on its reviews and her interest in fiction books about modern India. My interest has been more non-fiction and about colonial India and the Mongols rule. Yet, Ms. Maiumdar’s book caught my interest. The publisher says Maiumdar is a Harvard Grad who was born in India and now lives in New York City. This is her debut novel.The first thing a reader will notice is the narrative style of the writing. It has three major characters whose voices change from first to third person. The book is written in declarative short sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. This took me some getting used too. But I slowly realized that the characters, the social settings, and plot were as vivid as a long Dicken’s novel. Indeed, the main pleasure of reading this book is its language and style. The book’s structure enhances the character’s perspectives and I am sure each will stick in my head for a long time. The plot examines the use of social media (in this case Facebook) and how it can lead to intolerance and misunderstanding. The suspense of the book is the march of each character’s self-interest.The book is at once depressing and also a testament that all lives matter (in this case Muslim lives). Its characters are all underclass (even the one who is a teacher). They are slum dwellers who dream for the middle class. At times, I thought the book’s depictions were stereotypes. Perhaps not, but if this is how it is, it’s a sad time for India.Just a bit of the plot: The main character is Jivan, who witnesses a terrorist attack on a train that kills 100. She is a schoolgirl who lives in a slum next to a major garbage dump. She is taking a bundle of books to a younger girl she is teaching English. That girl’s name is Lovely and she dreams of becoming a movie star. Jivan’s teacher also yearns for a better life, a middle-class life. He knew Jivan had great potential… why then did she drop out of school? She should not have been on Facebook. Jivan is arrested. These three: know she is innocent.

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