‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar – India and the United States Today


‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar (2020) – 289 pages

‘A Burning’ is a vivid powerful novel which focuses on one of the major crises in our world today, racial hatred.

A young Muslim woman, Jivan, posts a response to a Facebook post. Jivan’s post happens to be earlier on the same night as a train is firebombed near her home killing over a hundred people. It turns out the unknown person she was responding to on Facebook is the leader of a terrorist group. Jivan was seen carrying a package near the railroad station. Jivan is arrested and put in prison to await trial. This is India today.

The majority Hindus in India make sure the cards are stacked against the minority Muslims in every way. They are unwilling to waste justice on beef-eaters; no humiliation or punishment is too severe for beef-eaters. Every Indian wants to be at least middle class, and the best way to achieve this status for many is to become complicit in the campaign against Muslims. This is the underside of Indian society today.

The devastating plot of ‘A Burning’ is just as applicable to the people of the United States in their treatment of black people as it is to Hindus in their treatment of Muslims.

‘A Burning’ is a world-changer if enough people read it and take it to their minds and souls.

The economy of the writing style in ‘A Burning’ is remarkable. The novel is written in short direct sentences that capture the drama or intensity of each scene.

The novel is made up of short chapters, switching from three interrelated characters and story lines as well as a few occasional interludes to advance the plot. One story line is of course Jivan, the young Muslim woman in prison. Jivan is locked up with a ragtag group of other women. She makes this observation regarding one of her jail mates:

Her husband threw acid on her but, somehow, she is the one in jail. These things happen if you are a woman.”

Another main character is Lovely who is a hijra who is aspiring to be an actor. I looked up the Indian translation for “hijra” which came back with “eunuch”. However Lovely is not a eunuch. A friend of his who had a makeshift operation in a dentist’s office has died, so Lovely will not have the operation. She is a transvestite. In this society hijra are assumed to have a special connection to the divine and are sought after to bless weddings and births, but also hijra are subject to abuse and mockery.

Nothing is simple for me, not even an hour on the train. My chest is a man’s chest, and my breasts are made of rags. So what? Find me another woman in this whole city as truly woman as me.”

‘A Burning’ does have its lighter moments, and most of them involve Lovely in pursuit of his/her acting career.

The third main character in ‘A Burning’ is PT Sir, Jivan’s former Phys Ed teacher. The story of PT Sir is an object lesson in how people who ordinarily would want to do the right thing for someone else can be corrupted into doing the wrong thing by the promise of advancement in their own careers or lives. He starts out by attending a political rally and soon he is giving false testimony against Muslim defendants in trials “because the police are one hundred and ten percent sure that the accused is guilty”.

With its short sentences and short chapters, ‘A Burning’ is a quick read, but it had a tremendous impact on me. I was so sure ‘The Maias’ by Eça de Queirós was going to be my favorite novel of the year but here comes along another major contender in ‘A Burning’.

‘A Burning’ has become a giant international bestseller. It’s refreshing that there are still some people who still root for the underdogs in this world. I wish more of them did.


Grade:    A+



5 responses to this post.

  1. I was concerned this might be too hard for me to read, Tony, but you’ve convinced me it’s worth the pain. I appreciate your judgment.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Sounds very powerful, Tony, and a reminder of the intolerant world we unfortunately live in. 😦

    Liked by 1 person


  3. […] Lisa from ANZLitlovers has also reviewed it and so has Tony at Tony’s Book World. […]



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