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Summary

A girl walks through the slums of Kolkata holding an armful of books. She returns home smelling of smoke, and checks her most prized possession: a brand-new smartphone, purchased in instalments. On Facebook, there is only one conversation.

#KolabaganTrainAttack

On the small, glowing screen, she types a dangerous thing....

If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?’

Set in contemporary India, A Burning is the story of three unforgettable characters, all dreaming of a better future, whose lives are changed for ever when they become caught up in the devastating aftermath of a terrorist attack.  

Jivan - a poor, young, Muslim girl, who dreams of going to college - faces a possible death sentence after being accused of collaborating with the terrorists.

Lovely - an exuberant hijra who longs to be a Bollywood star - holds the alibi that can set Jivan free, but telling the truth will cost her everything she holds dear.

PT Sir - an opportunistic gym teacher who once taught Jivan - becomes involved with Hindu nationalist politics and his own ascent is soon inextricably linked to Jivan’s fall.

Taut, propulsive and electrifying, from its opening lines to its astonishing finale, A Burning confronts issues of class, fate, prejudice and corruption with a Dickensian sense of injustice, and asks us to consider what it means to nurture big ambitions in a country hurtling towards political extremism.

A Burning is a novel for our times and for all time.

©2020 Meghar Majumdar (P)2020 Simon & Schuster UK

Critic reviews

"Immaculately constructed, acidly observed and gripping from start to finish, A Burning is a brilliant debut." (The Guardian)

"A big hit in America last year, this buzzy debut about the impact of a terrorist attack in a Kolkata slum on three connected characters is full of hot-button global topics, including violent nationalism." (Metro

"An evocative insight into class, corruption, injustice and power dynamics, this poignant tale makes for memorable reading." (Cosmopolitan)

What listeners say about A Burning

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    2 out of 5 stars

“Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.” — Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

“Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.”
— Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge
I was so often reminded of this quote as I read this novel.
Very touching, very moving.

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  • BR
  • 26-03-22

Exquisite Storytelling

A heartbreaking but not sentimental story of modern India. It's beautifully written; the characters are so real and captivating that they'll live with you. It deserves the best narration, and it gets it. I'll seek out more by Megha Majumdar.

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powerful disturbing new novel about modern india

very disturbing novel about the appalling nature of life in modern india for the poor, for muslims and for hijras. the callous brutality shown to muslims is horrendous. the 3 characters are all believable and very drawn. a novel that stays with you and makes you not want to spend time in india alas.

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Exceptional

Completely caught up from beginning to end - incredible narration all round and a story that is so resonant and so well written. Would highly recommend to anyone.

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Good read

It's a fine story that explores media influenced society and how it can change lives and cost them too. I preferred Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. For that immersion into India's societal attitude and a flavour of how life works there

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beautifully written

This book is closely observed and beautifully written. Lyrical text, well narated, a pleasure to listen to.

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Insightful

An insight into real lives, small scale corruption causing much bigger damage, and the winners and losers in it all. I particularly appreciated the window on transexual culture in India. A mesmerising tale.

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A tale for modern times

Not deeply intense but interesting story reflecting modern day India and personal ambitions with a sobering message.
Well written and excellently performed