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A Burning

A Novel
Written by: Megha Majumdar
Length: 7 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (9 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick! 

For fans 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.

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 listened to in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that appear 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.

©2020 Megha Majumdar (P)2020 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“This is a novel of now: a beautifully constructed literary thriller from a rare and powerful new voice.” (Colum McCann)

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What listeners say about A Burning

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    5 out of 5 stars

Metaphor for our times

(Contains mild spoilers.)
Superb performances by the readers make this leap out of the page more like a radio drama than a novel with the unscrupulous teacher, unfortunate clothing sales assistant and the very fortunate hijra all very well read by the narrators. It is now quite familiar in novels for the voice to flip between various characters in sequential chapters and it works very well in this book.
Terrorism, the uses and abuses of social media impacting the lives of novice (and experienced) users and the dark stain of corruption are themes throughout together with poverty and overt racism between the different groups of the population. This is happening world wide, this novel happens to be in India but it could be anywhere.
In my naivety I thought that PT Sir would be exposed as a charlatan enabling Jivan's trial to be declared a mistrial but, well, I won't expand.
Unusual for books to end with such a downer. The great success of the two surviving characters both depended on their interactions with Jivan, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but isn't this the story of humanity?

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  • Krista
  • 2020-07-01

Powerful and disturbing and well-read

Wow. This was not at all what I expected and will stay with me for a very long time. And the performances were spectacular. I enjoyed every uncomfortable minute.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Steve M
  • 2020-07-28

Heartbreaking and Brilliantly Performed

This story of a miscarriage of justice (for reasons of bias, political gain, personal fame, and financial ambition) is heartbreaking and enraging. You come to care deeply about Jivan, the Muslim girl living in poverty who is falsely accused of being a terrorist. Her plight drives the narrative, making it difficult to stop listening. Majumdar adds leavening in the form of Lovely, a hijra (transwoman) with dreams of becoming a movie star. The author's sympathies are never in question, but for the most part, she opts for psychological depth and subtlety. The novel makes the seductive powers of greed and corruption and the agonizing impotence of poverty palpable. A few things feel undeveloped, but it didn't spoil the power of the novel.

The novel is told in different voices, and the performances are truly flawless. The acting is subtle and exciting. I felt that listening to this enhanced the book in many ways. It was almost like listening to a thrilling radio play or podcast.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Courtney Nichole Thompson
  • 2020-06-24

Enlightening

A beautifully written cultural novel set in India about the miscarriage of justice against a young woman based on her Facebook post. This novel is nothing like The Female of the Species but somehow this novel kept crossing my mind as I read A Burning.

Perhaps it is because both were stories I did not expect with strong female leads with a guttural ending. Neither are very dense reads but tackles a social issue and although light reads, are darkish.

Unlike The Female of the Species, the ending was swift so it did not pack the same punch to the chest. A Burning wasn't nearly as brutal...although I think if it had of been, it would make a 5 star read. Majumdar was right there...she just needed to get in there with a little more emotion to get that home run for me. Maybe let us get to the know the characters a little more before the drama started - just a few added pages was all that this story needed.

I would not suggest this book for the immature reader.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-06-22

A Burning

This is a beautifully written and captivating story and the readers depicted their characters perfectly. The only thing that was missing for me, as a Muslim reader, is that the Muslims never prayed which most likely, during the characters’ times of trials and difficulties, they would have. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and how well it captures individual and group personalities as well as various aspects of culture and admire how it addresses tough issues. I look forward to reading more books by this author.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-06-26

Brilliant first novel

A superb first novel told in voices which also make for a superb audiobook. My favorite so far this year!!!

1 person found this helpful

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  • OwlLover
  • 2020-08-09

You want them to win

The characters al want something, and the author manages to make us want it for them too. We want them to make the right decisions, for people to see them for who they are, and for them to be happy. There are consequences to every decision, and it is hard to do what is right rather than what is most advantageous for the individual. The story is told in an interesting way. The relating of details to the reporter seems strange and unrealistic, but it probably works for the way the author wanted things to unfold. The ending is definitive and does not leave the reader hanging. It is good to see a writer make the decision and make it clear, whether a happy ending or not.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-08-06

A good read book

Loved it. A sad but easy read and well connected book! How a much young non native writers first attempt can be so awesome!! I was recalling my Bengal vividly

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  • Kimberly
  • 2020-08-04

Narration of male character hard to listen to.

Expected a bigger and more telling story from reviews. Couldn't even finish ending! Lost interest.

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  • Barbara S
  • 2020-07-26

fantastic narration

“A Burning” by Megha Majumdar is an illuminating story of India’s politics and social oppression and discriminations. In her work, she shows how Hindu nationalism is similar to white supremacy.

The novel has three narrators, each a part of oppression. Jivan, is a poor Muslim girl living in the slums, who has dreams of becoming middle class. Lovely is a hijra (a recognized gender in India that is nether male or female) who dreams of being an actress. Jivan taught Lovely English so she could better herself in her acting roles. PT Sir is an opportunistic Physical Education teacher who taught Jivan while she attended a girl’s school.

Jivan is young and finds Facebook to be fascinating. She wants to post something that garners a copious amount of “likes”. After a train is lit on fire at a train station that abuts Jivan’s slum, Jivan decides to post a comment that gets only 2 likes. And then she posts an off-handed comment that gathers the attention of Indian authorities suggesting that the police are complicit in the fire in that they allowed it to burn. Because of that comment, she is rushed to prison and to judgement.

The three lives intersect in Jivan’s arrest. Jivan was teaching English to Lovely around the time of the burning. PT Sir is a character witness as he was Jivan’s teacher; he shamelessly aligns with the right-wing political party. Through Lovely and PT Sir the author shows the power of India’s authorities. Someone needs to be blamed for the fire, and this innocent will satisfy the masses.

This story brings the reader to introspection on class, race, corruption and justice. Although the story is set in India, similar problems plague the United States.

I listened to audio production narrated by Vikas Adam, Priya Ayyar, Deepti Gupta, Soneela Nankani, Neil Shah, and Ulka Mohanty. The narrators are fantastic.

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  • Jane D. Walsh
  • 2020-07-23

Real

Feeling such sympathy for the accused young woman, it was difficult to proceed, her fate being all but obvious. The writer keeps you in her gentle but firm grip, as the narrators voice their well- developed characters, and Majumdar paints a vivid look at the developments in their lives as the story unfolds. The settings and every incidental, of nature, of survival for each living being, down to flies in excrement, the politics, the manipulation of people by those with various powers make this my newest best read ever.