Posts Tagged ‘Megha Majumdar’

The Top 12 List of the Favorite Fiction I Have Read in 2020


This being the year of the lockdown, I had time to read a couple of lengthy doorstop novels (‘The Maias’ and ‘Life A User’s Manual’) just like I used to do before I began writing regular blog posts. Also this year I discovered that there was some amazing fiction from the past which I had missed previously.

Click on either the bold-faced title or the cover image to see my original review for each work.


The Maias’ By Eça de Queirós (1888) – ‘The Maias’ is a jaunty vastly pleasurable trip in mid-to-late 19th-century Lisbon, Portugal society with some lively quick-witted companions. Readers new to Eça de Queirós can start with the short novella ‘The Yellow Sofa’ to determine if you like his style of writing or not.


‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar (2020) – ‘A Burning’ is a vivid powerful novel which focuses on one of the major crises in our world today, racial hatred. ‘A Burning’ is a world-changer if enough people read it and take it to their minds and souls.




‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell (2020) – A most intense depiction of family life and death in the late 16th century. Imagine an entire novel about William Shakespeare that contains not one line from his plays or his sonnets.




‘Tyll’ by Daniel Kehlmann (2017) – ‘Tyll’ is a sometimes light, sometimes black comedy which entirely suits the Thirty Years War. This novel is fascinating at the sentence level, a real accomplishment for both the author and the translator. Daniel Kehlmann brings a smart playful quality to his fiction that makes his writing well nigh irresistible.


Missionaries’ by Phil Klay (2020) – ‘Missionaries’ is a novel about the United States’ never-ending, misbegotten wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, and now Yemen. It is most focused on the drug wars in Colombia. ‘Missionaries’ opened my eyes to what is really happening in this world. It is a novel that will change your entire worldview.


‘Woe From Wit’ by Alexander Griboedov (1823) – From the very first words in the prologue of this verse play in four acts you can tell that it is going to be sharp and special:

Fate’s a mischief making tease,

That’s her character in brief,

a fool is blissfully at his ease,

a man of spirit comes to grief.


‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman (2017) – Someone could argue that the story in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ is not very sophisticated. I do not see sophistication as a necessary or even desirable attribute of literature. Rather I see stating situations as simply and clearly as possible as one of the hallmarks of good literature, and that ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ does. Eleanor Oliphant’ is a poignant and affecting story.


‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor (2016) – ‘Hurricane Season’ is not for the squeamish or easily offended. The characters in this novel tell the truth about some very rough things. They are angry and the words they use are coarse and direct. Read ‘Hurricane Season’ if you are brave and honest enough to take it.



Other People’s Love Affairs’ by D. Wystan Owen (2018) – These eloquent stories go deeper into the circumstances and the psyches of their main characters than most stories do. People in them almost connect but not quite. This is a collection of short stories which will move you if you are willing to be moved.


‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid (2020) – ‘Such a Fun Age’ is a novel with a light touch that captures the dialogue of people socializing, whether it be a group at a party or dinner or just two people alone. Rather than an individual character contemplating a problem or situation, we get the interplay of many voices. What this novel really excels in are exchanges between groups of young women, whether young mothers or young single women. Kiley Reid’s enthusiasm for her story rubs off on the reader.


Indelicacy’ by Amina Cain (2020) – ‘Indelicacy’ is a powerful novella about creativity. Can a woman who cleans toilets and mops floors for a living have strong ambitions to be a writer? ‘Indelicacy’ answers that question with a resounding “Yes”. ‘Indelicacy’ is a novel about the struggle to create. One gets the impression that Amina Cain carefully chose each precise word in this unusual novella ‘Indelicacy’. It is a work that captures you on a visceral level rather than an intellectual level, which is always a good thing.


‘Life A User’s Manual’ by Georges Perec (1978) – I just cannot leave this novel off my year’s best list even though at times I loathed, loathed it and at other times I loved, loved it.






Also this year I read two excellent works of non-fiction – ‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson and ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan.





My favorite collection of poems in 2020 is ‘Failing Heaven’ by Charles Behlen.










‘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+



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