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A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Literary fiction

A Burning

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Megha Majumdar, on your first book!

by Megha Majumdar

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Quick take

A careless social media comment casts three characters into a web of violence, politics, and tragedy in India.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

Synopsis

Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan's fall. Lovely—an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humor—has the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear.

Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism. An extraordinary debut.

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Free sample

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A Burning

Jivan

“You smell like smoke,” my mother said to me.

So I rubbed an oval of soap in my hair and poured a whole bucket of water on myself before a neighbor complained that I was wasting the morning supply.

There was a curfew that day. On the main street, a police jeep would creep by every half hour. Daily-wage laborers, compelled to work, would come home with arms raised to show they had no weapons.

In bed, my wet hair spread on the pillow, I picked up my new phone—purchased with my own salary, screen guard still attached.

On Facebook, there was only one conversation.

These terrorists attacked the wrong neighborhood #KolabaganTrainAttack #Undefeated

Friends, if you have fifty rupees, skip your samosas today and donate to—

The more I scrolled, the more Facebook unrolled.

This news clip exclusively from 24 Hours shows how—

Candlelight vigil at—

The night before, I had been at the railway station, no more than a fifteen-minute walk from my house. I ought to have seen the men who stole up to the open windows and threw flaming torches into the halted train. But all I saw were carriages, burning, their doors locked from the outside and dangerously hot. The fire spread to huts bordering the station, smoke filling the chests of those who lived there. More than a hundred people died. The government promised compensation to the families of the dead—eighty thousand rupees!—which, well, the government promises many things.

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Why I love it

When I first read this devastatingly beautiful story, I was immediately struck by the author’s voice. Majumdar writes with the kind of sharp eloquence that makes it difficult to believe this slim novel is her debut. This is one of those sparse, carefully crafted books in which every word truly matters.

Set in contemporary India, this book tells the plight of three unique characters. There’s Jivan, a brilliant young Muslim girl living in the slums; Lovely, an exuberant aspiring actress; and PT Sir, a gym teacher with desperate aspirations for success. After a tragic terrorist attack, these characters find their lives entangled. Themes of fate and class, corruption and justice abound as A Burning poses the question: Who do we stand by when the worst happens? And what do we stand for?

Some people may question why I chose such a heartbreaking story at this time, but I’m thrilled to be helping to introduce such a powerful new voice! Majumdar’s book will transport you to an unknown destination this summer, even when the thought of travel seems impossible. I can’t wait for you to fall in love with the culture, not to mention the unforgettable characters, depicted in A Burning—just as I did.

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Member ratings (10,047)

  • Meaghan W.

    Bayville, NY

    I found “A Burning” to be even more powerful than I thought it would be. Majumdar weaves a tale of how decisions and society’s perspective and agenda can greatly impact an unsuspecting persons fate.

  • Samantha C.

    Murrells Inlet, SC

    REALLY good. Each chapter ends with the most brilliant prose. If I didn’t listen to it on audio, I would have highlighted so much. (Like, how interesting are these characters!!!? How?!! I’m speechless

  • Melony M.

    Yucaipa, CA

    It is beautifully written and I love all the characters’ storylines intertwine. I liked how it showed corruption not only in the courthouses but even in the political parties. Jivan was my favorite. 

  • Heidi L.

    Vancouver, WA

    I read this in one day! ???? It’s a riveting story of 3 vastly different people in India, all seeking a better life. They must do so within the chaotic, unpredictable systems of their country. Stunning.

  • Madeline K.

    Columbia, MO

    This book brought powerful emotions to me. From pain to pride, each character’s development brought various challenges. Their connection to one another commented on society’s power over individuals.

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