Reading guide for Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

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Burnt Sugar

by Avni Doshi

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi X
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
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  • Published:
    Jan 2021, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Daniela Schofield
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. In what ways does Tara go against societal expectations of her as a daughter and wife?
  2. Discuss Tara and Antara's differing memories from their time at the ashram:
    • Tara's recollection of Antara's response to her father: "You used to cry for him day and night, not eat, not drink. Papa, Papa, Papa. He was the only one you wanted... . You made me feel like shit."
    • Antara's recollection of living in the ashram, longing for her mother, despite having Kali Mata as a surrogate, when Tara responds to the news that Antara had not been eating: "She throws me down on the bed, and my head feels the hard wood beneath the mattress. I cry out but Ma has climbed on top of me, is holding me, my arms and legs incapacitated, and the flailing I feel, the pain stops short and tolls back inside, turning over on itself. Her hand hits the side of my face, and like lightening, I see the streak before I hear the sound... . You better eat when you are told."
  3. How does Antara's childhood longing for her mother manifest itself when she is an adult?
  4. The primary relationship in Burnt Sugar is that between Antara and Tara, but there are other parent-offspring relationships portrayed throughout the story. Discuss how they are different or the same.
  5. What holds Dilip and Antara's marriage together?
  6. How is the institution of marriage presented?
  7. Why does Tara have such hatred of Antara's art?
  8. How aware is Tara that she has early-stage Alzheimer's?
  9. "Ma doesn't come to the house often. She says the main hall disturbs her, especially the mirrors that cover each wall, reflecting everything in multiple directions." There are other descriptions of the mirrors in Dilip and Antara's home. Discuss their possible meanings.
  10. What is Antara looking for in her relationship with Reza?
  11. After the birth of her daughter, Anikka, Antara reflects on her relationship with her mother: "Maybe we would have been better off if I had never been diagnosed as her undoing. How do I stop from making the same mistake? How do I protect this little girl from the same burden? Maybe that's impossible? Maybe this is all wishful thinking." How is Antara different from her mother?
  12. Considering Antara's relationship with Purvi and the sexual tension that is part of it, what can be made of Antara's statement, "Suddenly, I don't like having Purvi here, don't want her in the house. She reminds me of too many things we have done together. I don't want her around my daughter."
  13. Are there universal themes in Burnt Sugar about mother-daughter relationships? If so, what are they?
  14. Actual burnt sugar is used in cooking to flavor various dishes, some savory and some sweet. What message about the story is relayed through the title?
  15. How is Pune, India, portrayed?
  16. How is the United States portrayed?

Additional Resources
Antara invokes artist On Kawara to explain her work. Find out more about the highly regarded conceptual artist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxOynktWnMw

Guide written by Karen D. Taylor



Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of The Overlook Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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