Thursday, December 3, 2020

Day 3: Megha Majumdar's A Burning

 One of the books that has stayed in my mind longer than most this year is Megha Majumdar's novel A Burning. The story begins when Jivan, a young Indian woman, is bringing some of her textbooks to tutor Lovely, a transgendered street person who aspires to be an actress. Jivan witnesses a train explosion that kills several people. By coincidence her misfortune to be at just the wrong place, carrying a package, along with her social media activity--a chance comment and a chat with someone she doesn't realize is an alleged terrorist--brings her under suspicion.

The narrative moves back and forth between Jivan, Lovely, and PT Sir, the gym teacher at the school she attended on scholarship. While these two might have the opportunity to help clear Jivan, their own aspirations get in the way. PT Sir, after stopping to listen in at a political rally, finds himself caught up in the party opposing the current administration. Lovely's chance to play a film role is at odds with the possible negative publicity.

Even Jivan's court-appointed attorney has conflicts of interest, and his client is never his priority. Because it's an election year, Jivan's case--abetting a terrorist!--gets pulled into the fray. A strong point of the narrative is Majumdar's development of the character of the women in the prison with Jivan.

Reading this novel is a little like watching a train wreck about to happen. You can't look away, as painful as it is. As you read, you'll be thinking that if you were in the place of any of the other characters, with the opportunity to take up for Jivan, you'd do the right thing.


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