Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Even with all its irony, Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar is not the easiest read. It evokes not only empathy but also deep self-reflection. Instead of a romantic line, there is a problematic and painful relationship between a mother and daughter at the forefront of the novel’s narrative – a story of affection, obsession and betrayal, which is revealed through the funnel of the plot’s retrospective composition.
The events take place in the Indian city of Pune where Doshi lays bare the problem of class inequality, describing local homes with servants and families whose children study abroad, beggars on the streets and the ascetic living of the ashrams. The country appears before us in all its versatility and contradiction: religiosity, astrological birth charts, condemnation of divorce, feminist views arising in the younger generation, modern medicine and the worship of gurus. The ruthless realism in the author’s language effortlessly brings the characters and the world around them to life.
Memory and amnesia are some of Burnt Sugar’s major themes, echoing Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude; here, some characters live in the captivity of their own memories, while others feel those reminiscences slipping away. Events of the past are intertwined with the present, and step by step they reveal their unavoidable influence: “Maybe our mothers always create a lack in us, and our children continue to fulfil the prophecy”. However, this choice of plot construction makes some parts feel slightly chaotic and not so clear to follow. With an ambitious array of topics in the storyline, it feels like perhaps the book could have been longer to explore them further.
Overall, this novel is deeply honest, and the author’s voice is powerful enough to provoke complicated feelings. The meaning of the title is not immediately obvious, but this discovery will later spread through the thoughts of the reader with acute bitterness. Burnt Sugar tells us about the bonds between parents and children, lost freedom, fears, resentment, responsibility and the inevitable sacrifices that follow someone’s choices. Doshi skilfully combines the individual narratives into a single cycle of human existence: “The beginning of life so closely resembles the end.”
Photo: Sharon Haridas
Burnt Sugar is published by Hamish Hamilton at the hardback price of £14.99 and is available in the UK on July 30th 2020. For further information visit here.