Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

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 said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure,” says Antara, Tara’s now-adult daughter.

This is a love story and a story about betrayal—not between lovers but between a mother and a daughter. … In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her arranged marriage to join an ashram, embarked on a stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing a disheveled, homeless “artist,” all with little 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, Avni Doshi tells a story at once shocking and empathetic of a mother-daughter relationship and a daughter’s search for self. A journey into shifting memories, altering identities, and the subjective nature of truth, Burnt Sugar is the stunning and unforgettable debut of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a unique read for me. I’m not sure how to phrase my description of the book both in writing style and content. Unspoken depth. Scorching, uneasy, distorted, repulsive, mentally unsettling. Sharp.

It’s definitely not a light-hearted book. More disconcerting than comforting, especially at the beginning when I was gauging my first thoughts about it, wondering where they would settle. I kept reading though.

I’m not sure who I would recommend this one to as it reads more like an expression of complex, conflicting thoughts of a mother-daughter relationship than an adventurous, satisfying arch of a character study as the progression is quite subtle as circumstances come to term, ending a bit open-ended for me. I think it would make a good book club pick for the right people. Also would be an interesting one to analyze in a behavioral psychology course, a supplemental book for any Freudian psychoanalysis study section.

Some sights were outright grotesque.

Not likely a book I would have picked up on my own apart from seeing it as a prize winning debut. I mention that because others may share the sentiment and I think that is worth sharing in especially if you’re a reader like me who has certain likes and dislikes though is typically quite open to taking risks in what you consume. Within reason of course as some likely may find the subject matter quite disturbing.

The Story
It’s really a glimpse into the way the main character copes, divulges, restrains herself in her relationships, with her mother being at the core. In a contrarian way, giving thoughts to things unspoken, the unsightly, the struggle. Bodily functions were almost maddening at times. The inner-monologue was honest, raw, while action was restrained, indirect, disconnected, passive-aggressive, hostile at times.

Portrays a relationship that seeks to please and preserve your own self and another at the same time, when both have needs that need to be met, sometimes not able to be met simultaneously. I think it is one that will hit people different in ways as far as content in questioning and fulfillment is concerned.

Depicts uncertainty, ultimately insecurity, a type of emotionally immature child and parent relationship, definitely not a plot-driven thriller if that is something you’re looking to read.

The Writing
So strong as told in first person POV. The expressions were concrete, deep with accuracy, insight, and evoking emotion, rich in passing. Rich in foresight and in lingering in my mind well after.

Careful crafted and careless in content at the same time. It’s the conflict that was so well displayed. A good balance between telling a reader what you need to know and what should be left to ponder. All of it making a point, whether subtle or overt. Well-separated were the thoughts and actual actions of the main character, how she kept herself in check, perceptive, sane, and pushing forward, bonded to her relationships, with an introspection that kept me as the reader tight to her thought process.

The anticipation of hope that is incremental, harboring resentment, conflicting feelings. Kind of left me feeling sour and a bit wretched.

Characterization was done really well. I was especially mesmerized by the writing in the dream sequence.

View all my reviews


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  1. […] enough I recalled it most recently while reading a book last year called Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi which described or at least made me recall a scene that was so similar to my own experience in a […]

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