Summary and book reviews of Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

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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About this Book

Book Summary

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, a searing literary debut novel set in India about mothers and daughters, obsession and betrayal.

"I would be lying if I say my mother's misery has never given me pleasure," says Antara, Tara's now-adult daughter.

In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her marriage to join an ashram, and while Tara is busy as a partner to the ashram's spiritual leader, Baba, little Antara is cared for by an older devotee, Kali Mata, an American who came to the ashram after a devastating loss. Tara also embarks on a stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents) and spends years chasing a disheveled, homeless artist, all with young Antara in tow. But now Tara is forgetting things, and Antara is an adult––an artist and married––and must search for a way to make peace with a past that haunts her as she confronts the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.

Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery, choking cord of memory and myth that binds mother and daughter. Is Tara's memory loss real? Are Antara's memories fair? In vivid and visceral prose, Tibor Jones South Asia Prize–winning writer Avni Doshi tells a story, at once shocking and empathetic, about love and betrayal between a mother and a daughter. A journey into shifting memories, altering identities, and the subjective nature of truth, Burnt Sugar is a stunning and unforgettable debut.

Excerpt
Burnt Sugar

Seven sticks of incense burn by the door. I cough and my mother pops her head out of the kitchen. I can smell that she is frying peanuts with cumin seeds in oil. I slip my feet out of my sneakers, which have stretched at the mouth because they're never unlaced. The floor is cold and smells like lemongrass milk. Light pours in through the east-facing window in the kitchen, and Ma is a silhouette. She dumps a bowl of bloated tapioca balls into the pot and covers it to steam.

'Have you had breakfast?' she asks, and I say I haven't even though I have.

I set the table like we used to, with glasses for water and buttermilk, and no spoon for Ma because she likes to eat with her hands. She brings out chillies, red and powdered, green and chopped. The pot is placed directly on the table, and when she lifts the lid, the cloud that conceals the meal inside evaporates.

I help myself to a large spoonful. The tapioca balls bounce on my plate, leaving a glistening trail behind ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

For those who are mothers, or are contemplating the idea of motherhood, Burnt Sugar may dredge up insecurities, guilt and shortcomings. Antara's own insecurities appear throughout the book and include her concern that she, too, will be unable to control her impulses, and that she will parent as poorly as her mother. While disquieting, however, the novel is surprisingly light in parts, with Doshi infusing wry humor at well-timed moments in her depiction of the nuances of the mother-daughter relationship...continued

Full Review Members Only (850 words).

(Reviewed by Daniela Schofield).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Burnt Sugar is a work of extraordinary insight, courage and sophistication.

New York Journal of Books
Burnt Sugar is an incredible novel with messages and characters that remain with its reader far beyond the final line. In this sometimes humorous, sometimes dark, always ephemeral piece of literature, Avni Doshi unspools an original take on the theme of inheritance—what we take on willingly and unwillingly.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Doshi's prose is arresting and her ideas fiercely intelligent.

Daily Mail (UK)
Doshi's visceral debut is a no-holds-barred excavation of how hate can both poison and sustain.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
A corrosive, compulsive debut.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Dark emotions color a daughter's complex connection to her mother in a striking first novel that delves deep into family bonds...A landmark portrait of toxic parenting and its tangled aftermath

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[S]tunning...Doshi's portrayal of troubled mother-daughter intimacy is viscerally poetic. This has the heft and expansiveness of a classic 19th-century novel.

The Guardian
Burnt Sugar is an unsettling, sinewy debut, startling in its venom and disarming in its humor from the very first sentence.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic
Avni Doshi is a writer of surgical precision and sharp intelligence. This novel of mother-and-daughter resentments and the deep, intimate cuts of ancient family history gleams like a blade—both dangerous and beautiful. I loved it.

Author Blurb Tishani Doshi, author of Small Days and Nights
A courageous novel written in spare, gleaming sentences. It made me hold my breath and gather it up again.

Author Blurb Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Starling Days
Raw, wise, and cuttingly funny.

Reader Reviews

Jo Quantrill

Memory mothers maternity and more
I found this book challenging due to personal experience of a mother with dementia and I am also over 65. But I’m glad I read it. Family relationships, women’s place in past and present India, cultural differences with America, the problems and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Rajneesh Movement

Followers lined up as Rajneesh drives by, 1982 Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was born on December 11, 1931 in Kuchwada, India as Chandra Mohan Jain. He was given the name Rajneesh, meaning "god of night," at six months. He took an interest in religion from a young age and eventually found work as a philosophy instructor, but in 1966 resigned from his position at the University of Jabalpur to become a guru and teach meditation. In the early 1970s, he began to induct followers into the order of sannyasis, Hindus who renounce wealth and possessions. However, while sannyasis are traditionally associated with ascetic practices and strict self-discipline, Rajneesh encouraged his followers to enjoy worldly pleasures, without being attached to material goods. In 1971, he took ...

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