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Burnt Sugar: A Novel by Avni Doshi
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Burnt Sugar: A Novel (edition 2021)

by Avni Doshi (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3411962,126 (3.21)78
Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, a searing literary debut novel set in India about mothers and daughters, obsession and betrayal NPR Best Book of 2020 "I would be lying if I say my mother's misery has never given me pleasure," says Antara, Tara's now-adult daughter. In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her marriage to join an ashram, and while Tara is busy as a partner to the ashram's spiritual leader, Baba, little Antara is cared for by an older devotee, Kali Mata, an American who came to the ashram after a devastating loss. Tara also embarks on a stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents) and spends years chasing a disheveled, homeless artist, all with young Antara in tow. But now Tara is forgetting things, and Antara is an adult--an artist and married--and must search for a way to make peace with a past that haunts her as she confronts the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery, choking cord of memory and myth that binds mother and daughter. Is Tara's memory loss real? Are Antara's memories fair? In vivid and visceral prose, Tibor Jones South Asia Prize-winning writer Avni Doshi tells a story, at once shocking and empathetic, about love and betrayal between a mother and a daughter. A journey into shifting memories, altering identities, and the subjective nature of truth, Burnt Sugar is a stunning and unforgettable debut.… (more)
Member:memasmb
Title:Burnt Sugar: A Novel
Authors:Avni Doshi (Author)
Info:Harry N. Abrams (2021), 288 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:read, LWTBC

Work Information

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

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» See also 78 mentions

English (17)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
First-person narrator Antara doles out her story slowly. Her mother, Tara, is beginning to have memory problems, and Antara knows she will need to care for her, but is somewhat resentful. When Antara was young, her mother left her father and took her to live in an ashram, where "Baba" had sex with many of the women (and at least one child). Later, Antara was sent to a Catholic boarding school where she and the other girls were physically abused. Now Antara is an artist, married to Dilip, who was raised in America; they are considering having a baby, and Dilip (and his mother) want them to move to the States. Antara's art - a series of daily portrait drawings of the same face, over and over - infuriates her mother, but it's not until later in the story that the reader understands why: the face belongs to Reza Pine, who was in a relationship with Tara when Antara was a young teen. He disappeared, and when Antara ran into him years later, they began a relationship.

Neither mother nor daughter is blameless. Antara researches dementia and memory loss, and when she puts her mother on a no-sugar, high-fat diet, Tara becomes much clearer and sharper; but Antara then fears her mother will tell Dilip about Reza, and lets her have sweets again, and she becomes fuzzy and unclear again.

The reliability of anybody's memory is questionable. The ending, especially, makes the reader question reality: whose memories and perception are trustworthy? (Unreliable narrator?) Antara and Dilip have a baby girl, which Tara seems to think is baby Antara, and the rest of the family and friends gathered go along with it for her sake. Antara flees, then returns, waiting to be let back in.

Quotes

Human degeneration halts and sputters but doesn't reverse. (2)

And so we paused in this stalemate, as we so often would again, everyone standing by their falsehoods, certain that their own self-interest would prevail. (4)

It seems to me now that this forgetting is convenient, that she doesn't want to remember the things she has said and done. It feels unfair that she can put away the past from her mind while I'm brimming with it all the time. (50)

This is a long and drawn-out loss, where a little bit goes missing at a time. Perhaps...there is no other way besides waiting...and the mourning can happen afterwards, a mourning filled with regret because we never truly had closure. (97)

"You'll never know if the memory is real or imagined. Your mother is no longer reliable." (doctor, 136)

Days and nights unhinged from dates and hours, and time was only recognizable by the passage of the moon in the sky. (156)

"Reality is something that is co-authored." (life coach, 176)

We dissolve with questions. Even question marks have always seemed strange to me, a hook from the hand of some nightmare. (178)

How many times must a performance be repeated before it becomes reality? If a falsehood is enacted enough, does it begin to sound factual? Is a pathway created for lies to come true in the brain? (227)

My own mother. The more deranged she becomes, the greater her clarity of purpose, like a picture with minimum aperture - the background dims as the singularity of the focus intensifies. (229) ( )
  JennyArch | Jan 25, 2022 |
Didn't get it. ( )
  ibkennedy | Jan 20, 2022 |
I had to read this because someone said it was "corrosive".

I love it.


We dissolve with questions. Even question marks have always seemed strange to me, a hook from the hand of some nightmare.


The narrator is so lost, she doesn't have anything to hold on to at all. No foundation of solid relationships, no shared memories, no conclusions, no solid ground. That's a key aspect of the character for me, and that she doesn't know even know what questions to ask. She thinks she can see subatomic particles under a microscope. Google searches, life coaches, messed up father figures, ephemeral mother figures, psychopathic nuns.


...................................................................................
Random quotes I don't remember highlighting:

seeing a reflection shout is similar to watching television.

my mother said they were trading their bad memories for a stranger’s.

I wish moderation were a comfortable state.

By the time we left the ashram, it was 1989. I was seven years old. Sometimes I can feel that girl crowning at the back of my throat, trying to come out through any orifice she can. But I swallow her until the next time she wants to be born

I want to cry for being stupid, for giving him the tools to make this incision.

This is a long and drawn out loss, where a little bit goes missing at a time.

I think about every decision I’ve made until this point that has brought me here, and I wonder how much is because it was easy.

I stopped seeing the therapist soon after that because she asked too many questions. Wasn’t her job to sit and listen? In fact, worse than the thought of my parents’ abandonment were all the unanswered questions she posed, the ones that continue to float around. Anytime I come close to answering one, a whole series of other doubts assert themselves. I wonder at the terror physicists must have felt when the laws of Newton failed under a microscope. They poked a little too far.

Hating the playground felt good, gave a direction to my feeling of unease, grounded it in an object that I could see. This contempt still draws up the moment I feel uncomfortable. I disown so I can never be disowned.


I rub my eye. White from the corner sticks like glue on my fingers. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of it.

Though if they repeat it long enough, if the act is internalized – would it be an act any more? Can a performance of pleasure, even love, turn into a true experience if one becomes fluent enough in it? When does the performance become reality?

Otherwise my reading and writing skills were passable, and the teachers praised my mechanical handwriting. Submission was apparent in every line I wrote.

She has a smile on her face that is worn too tightly.

Yes, I dripped on occasion too, but I was always able to seal myself up again.

‘And doesn’t it make sense that people want to leave?’ I asked. The therapist jotted something down and asked me to elaborate. I told him that staying doesn’t have the appeal, the mystery, of escape. To stay is to be staid, to be resigned, to believe this is all there will ever be. Aren’t we creatures made for searching, investigation, dominion? Aren’t we built to believe there can always be something better?

Neither has listening. There was a breakdown somewhere about what we were to one another, as though one of us was not holding up her part of the bargain, her side of the bridge.
( )
  RebeccaBooks | Sep 16, 2021 |
Truly brilliant writing - and not surprised it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020. I confirm the book blurb is completely accurate: Arresting and fiercely intelligent, disarmingly witty and frank - Sunday Times.

It was the sort of book I would have breathed in and been sated once. Nowadays, mother - daughter themes are my least favourite. So I listened to about 1.5 hours and didn't return to it. I appreciate that it is a kind of love story between mother and daughter. The mother's Alzheimer's and the obvious dislike of daughter for mother - you have to be in the mood for these thing, and don't have the buzz of the good escapism.

Vineeta Rishi's reading is great and love the glimpse into India. Nothing else read by her in my library unfortunately. ( )
  Okies | Sep 12, 2021 |
This book is a wonderful look at a very difficult mother-daughter relationship, as well as the tendency for a new mom to disappear when people come to see the baby. I really liked this and want to read more by this author, though there were a few things I wanted to know more about. Did Antara or her mother continue to see/write to Kali Mata until her death? Antara seems to view her as the woman who truly raised her, but did they lose touch during her adolescence? Dilip is American, but there is very little about what that means for the story, other than occasional mentions of maybe moving--no real job search or paperwork or discussion. So why is it here?
———
Antara is an adult and married, and her 50-something mother Tara is forgetting things. Soon she is wandering, setting fires, and needs to be watched. Her own mother is getting to be too feeble to do the watching. Antara tries, but is soon in a downward spiral related to her own pregnancy, probable postpartum depression, and her memories of her strange childhood. She was always in her mother's way, and her mother is more than happy to tell her that now. Antara struggles with her mother leaving her father for a guru. With her father having remarried and having a younger son whom Anatara doesn't know. Her mother took her to the guru's ashram for years, where another woman, Kali, cared for her. Then she had them begging on the streets, to get at her own wealthy parents. Now, she insults Antara's artwork and claims the baby as her own. ( )
  Dreesie | Jun 30, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Avni Doshiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mathan, SnehaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Ma, ami tumar kachchey aamar porisoi diti diti biakul oya dzai

Mother I'm so tired, tired of introducing myself to you

Rehna Sultana, 'Mother'
Dedication
For Nishi, Naren and Pushpa the Brave
First words
I would be lying if I said my mother's misery has never given me pleasure.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, a searing literary debut novel set in India about mothers and daughters, obsession and betrayal NPR Best Book of 2020 "I would be lying if I say my mother's misery has never given me pleasure," says Antara, Tara's now-adult daughter. In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her marriage to join an ashram, and while Tara is busy as a partner to the ashram's spiritual leader, Baba, little Antara is cared for by an older devotee, Kali Mata, an American who came to the ashram after a devastating loss. Tara also embarks on a stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents) and spends years chasing a disheveled, homeless artist, all with young Antara in tow. But now Tara is forgetting things, and Antara is an adult--an artist and married--and must search for a way to make peace with a past that haunts her as she confronts the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery, choking cord of memory and myth that binds mother and daughter. Is Tara's memory loss real? Are Antara's memories fair? In vivid and visceral prose, Tibor Jones South Asia Prize-winning writer Avni Doshi tells a story, at once shocking and empathetic, about love and betrayal between a mother and a daughter. A journey into shifting memories, altering identities, and the subjective nature of truth, Burnt Sugar is a stunning and unforgettable debut.

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