Review by David Wolff
Set in modern day India, Megha Majumdar’s debut novel A Burning kicks off with Jivan, a young Muslim woman, offhandedly critiquing the role of government and policing in the wake of a terrorist train station bombing on her Facebook profile. Only problem – a boy she’s recently met online is a recruiter for the terrorist cell responsible, and suddenly she’s the focus of a massive media and police campaign to put a face to the attackers. Jivan’s best hope of acquittal lies with Lovely, a Hijra* with dreams of becoming a movie star and Jivan’s alibi. And there is P.T. Sir, a phys-ed teacher at the all-girls school Jivan used to attend, who has fallen in with a populist political movement. Told from these three points of view, the expertly crafted intersecting plots come crashing together in a way I won’t soon forget. Quietly elegant and atmospheric, yet also a suspenseful page-turner, A Burning manages to tell a tightly woven story about fate, corruption, media falsehoods dressed up as truth, and class (and trying to rise above it) – all big things happening to regular people, who then have to figure out how to live life in response.
*an officially recognized third gender in the Indian subcontinent