In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her arranged marriage to join an ashram, took a hapless artist for a lover, rebelled against every social expectation of a good Indian woman – all with her young child in tow. Years on, she is an old woman with a fading memory, mixing up her maid’s wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a mother who never seemed to care for her.
This is a poisoned love story. But not between lovers – between mother and daughter. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar gradually untangles the knot of memory and myth that bind two women together, revealing the truth that lies beneath.
Published by Penguin in June 2021!
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A strong-headed and often selfish mother and divorcee—Tara—slowly being bogged down in dementia; a visual artist and former’s daughter—Antara—who worries about her career, her marriage, and the tension-filled strings weaved in the relationship with her mother who is gradually losing her memory; a narration spilled through dual timelines—one painting the current events against the backdrop of a modern Indian city, and the other recounting years marking Antara’s childhood.
Like sugar that’s caramelizing, this shortlisted title for Booker Prize 2020 is dangerously scalding while it entangles a mother-daughter relationship in unmet expectations, lost dreams, unhappiness, and years of neglecting sensitivity, love, and passion that every fulfilling relationship demands. And like caramelized sugar searing on the flames, Burnt Sugar can scorch with painful evocativeness around abuse, loneliness, and post-partum depression wrapped in the flawed characterization of a woman.
Despite the very many invigorating and individualistic themes with potential to manifest empathy, understanding, and relatability, and equally important depictions of timely tensions like classism and religious strain, this debut fails to let a reader indulge in the absolutely realistic mess due to the lack of a compelling voice, an excessively floundering narration, and unnecessarily cliched portrayal of disturbing instances, nauseating descriptions, and the typically gross, pathetic, and filthy rendering of India—not to say there aren’t issues in the country or stray dogs or pervert gurus, but the way Burnt Sugar paints the picture of this third-world country is wildly acclimatizing to the western audience and so-called intellectuals with awards to give.
my rating ↣ ★★★☆☆
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