Burnt Sugar

“I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure. I suffered at her hands as a child, and any pain she subsequently endured appeared to me to be a kind of redemption – a rebalancing of the universe, where the rational order of cause and effect aligned. But now, I can’t even the tally between us. The reason is simple: my mother is forgetting, and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Burnt Sugar
By Avni Doshi
Source: Advance review copy

Antara is an artist living in India with her husband. She’s never had a good relationship with her mother, Tara, but now her mother’s health may be failing and Antara as the only child feels like she needs to step in and help.

We learn that when Tara was a young wife, she fled from her staid life and marriage and joined an ashram with young Antara in tow. At the ashram, Tara becomes the mistress of the guru and Antara is left to the care of other women for the most part. When Tara finally leaves the ashram her life continues on a rocky path.

Needless to say, Tara has never confronted her mother about the past and how can she do that now when her mother’s suffering from dementia. She wants to help but at every turn her mother still manages to remind her of past hurts. Moments like when Antara brings her mother home and all Tara can do is disparage Antara’s artistic work. Tara can still manage to be cruel and no matter how old, Antara is, it still hurts.

What is interesting is that neither character is sympathetic but I don’t want to spoil why I had concerns about Antara, you’ll have to read for yourself. I think mother-daughter relationships in novels can be extremely fascinating to explore the themes of forgiveness, compassion, love, etc. but this novel left me feeling like there was no closure for either character. Like it was too late which is ultimately a very depressing thought. I had very high hopes for this nominated Booker Prize novel but overall it was not a winner for me.

  1. February 8, 2021
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