For readers of Tommy Orange, Yaa Gyasi, and Jhumpa Lahiri, an electrifying debut novel about three unforgettable characters who seek to rise—to the middle class, to political power, to fame in the movies—and find their lives entangled in the wake of a catastrophe in contemporary India.
In this National Book Award Longlist honoree and “gripping thriller with compassionate social commentary” (USA Today), 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.
"Riveting...This is a novel of our pandemic times, an exploration of precarity in all its forms...Majumdar excels at depicting the workings of power on the powerless... Fate has rarely been so many-faced, so muscular, so mercurial, or so mesmerizing as it is in A Burning."
—The New York Times Book Review [cover]
"Powerful... propulsive...This is a book to relish for its details, for the caress of the writer’s gaze against the world... The interplay of choice and circumstance has always been the playing field of great fiction, and on this terrain, a powerful new writer stakes her claim."
—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“The must-read novel of the summer… This all-consuming story rages along, bright and scalding… Majumdar demonstrates an uncanny ability to capture the vast scope of a tumultuous society by attending to the hopes and fears of people living on the margins. The effect is transporting, often thrilling, finally harrowing… Majumdar’s outrage is matched only by her sympathy for these ordinary people… [A Burning] is a damning critique of a culture that generates constant upheaval but no systemic change.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"Immersive...masterly... the elements of a thriller are transmuted into prismatic portraiture... A Burning has a similar urgency of appeal [to Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.] Its characters are at the very front of the stage, and we can feel their breath... Her spare plot moves with arrowlike determination...I can’t remember when I last read a novel that so quickly dismantled the ordinary skepticism that attends the reading of made-up stories. Early Naipaul comes to mind as a precursor, and perhaps Akhil Sharma’s stupendously vivid novel Family Life... It’s only at the end of this brief, brave novel that one becomes fully aware of how broad its judgments have been, how fierce and absolute its condemnations. Through the gaps that open up among and behind these three characters, a large Indian panoply emerges."
—James Wood, The New Yorker