Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

“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 become true in the brain?”

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi shares the story of a decaying relationship between a mother, Tara, and her daughter, Antara. The novel is entirely narrated by Antara, alternating between the present time and her childhood. She tells her years long anger and resentment towards her mother.

Tara was a wild creature who did things in impulse and that strained her relationships with people around her. After some times in her loveless marriage, Tara left with her daughter and joined an ashram where she neglected Antara. Years later, they left the ashram abruptly and had to beg around and live as homeless people cause both Tara’s parents and husband took her in when the situation got worsen.

Now, suffering from amnesia, Tara memories become unreliable. Antara becomes an artist and is married to an understanding husband. She thinks it’s unfair that her mother conveniently forgets the things she had said and done. Antara takes care of her mother but she couldn’t help reminding how miserably Tara had treated her in the past. She struggles between her marriage and her mother’s health. While taking care of her demented mother, Antara wonders if she is the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It is such an uncomfortable read to be honest. Most of the time, the storytelling is uncomfortably graphic and it shares the wretched conditions of homelessness and a few obscene events in detail which some of the privileged ones haven’t encountered. I find the narrative slightly incoherent until I realised the narrator herself might not be a reliable person. I think some of the medical or scientific data are unnecessary though it shows Antara’s thorough research on her mother’s illness. Apart from these parenthetical writings on Alzheimer, the rest of the story is emphatically told. An absorbing read with unforgettable characters.

As told in the story, Antara is a hoarder. Not just the physical things, she collects the memories, too, including the bad and harmful ones. She tries to move forward without a single ounce of forgiveness towards her mother. So taking care of her mother is pointless. I’m not blaming her here. Tara is also the responsible one, too. She had hurt Antara multiple times. Right now, she’s the sick one. In the book, it said both sufferer and carer will be affected in a case like this. It will burn both people. Well, they both were burning flames consuming each other and the illness exacerbate the situation.

Antara had a tough childhood and her mental wounds were never treated properly. The complex interplay of extrinsic and intrinsic factors are like positive and negative charges in a stormy cloud, incessantly triggering lightnings and thunders in her mind. This makes her a very interesting character. It might be nice to hear Tara’s narration but then I considered, will it be as compelling as current story?

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