It’s Friday afternoon, the last weekday off before I return to work, and I’m feeling pretty good. The weather is less humid than it has been lately, I just picked up some new books from Words Worth Books, my local independent bookstore, and I’ve got a delicious Date Bar to accompany my steaming mug of chai. I commented a few weeks ago about feeling a lot of “book pressure” because I had so many books from the public library to read, as well as a gigantic stack of books from my school library, and there was so little time to make a dent in either pile. But as my time off comes to an end, I have to say I’m feeling less pressure and more of a sense of accomplishment, having managed to read four books from school and a number of books from the library.
One of the books that I just brought back to the library this morning was A Burning, and WOW, what a book that was! This short debut novel by Megha Majumdar was brief yet powerful, the kind of book that left me reeling, and one that I won't soon forget. Told by three different narrators, this novel follows the arrest and imprisonment of a young woman in India who is accused of participating in a recent terrorist firebomb train attack. Jivan has been in contact on Facebook with someone she believes to be a young foreign man, just a friend, but she posts an offhand comment about the government which will alter the course of her life. Lovely is a hijra, a member of the intersex subculture, a man who wishes to be a woman. She and her sisters are often called upon to perform blessings at births and weddings, but are otherwise reviled by the rest of the community. Her true calling, she believes, is to be a famous actress, a rising star in Bollywood. PT Sir is the shy, nervous phys ed teacher at a posh all-girls’ school, the only male on staff and the one everyone turns to whenever there is a technical problem, but otherwise overlooks. He inadvertently becomes involved in the political campaigning for the upcoming election, where his ethics are put to the test time and time again. These three narratives, the voices of characters whose lives intersect in what will become the most momentous of ways, drag readers along as the successes of two reach greater heights while the third sinks deeper and deeper into despair. The finale was at once heart-wrenching and wholly believable, as the corruption of society and self, along with justification and self-deception, are revealed for all to see. I could say so much more about this book, how it dealt with themes of greed and class struggles, morals and a willingness to turn a blind eye… it’s all there and so much more, and the brief chapters narrated by these distinct voices, as well as the occasional “interlude” by other random characters, serve to make this novel a roller-coaster ride that was so compelling, I had a hard time putting it down, even though I suspected all would not end well. It was like watching a train wreck while clasping your hands over your eyes, unable to stop yourself from peeking though your fingers. It reminded me in style and themes of another book I loved, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. I would highly recommend this to any reader interested in the themes mentioned above.
That’s all for today. Have a great weekend!Bye for now…