‘Burnt Sugar’ by Avni Doshi

As a young woman, Tara was rebellious. Now, in this tale of memory and forgetfulness, as she slips towards dementia, Tara moves into the comfortable Pune apartment of her married daughter, Antara. Only the younger woman, recalling her own memories, is faced with the task of caring for a mother who never seemed to care for her.

Doshi’s debut novel is a caustic tale of mothers and daughters. Over the years, Antara has pieced together the life of Tara, a beautiful woman who abandoned her arranged marriage and fled, young child in tow, to an ashram. There she became the lover of the guru, leaving Antara in the care of the camp matriarch. It was to set a pattern as parent dipped in and out of the life of the young girl – whether during the four years at the ashram or later, when Antara was once again abandoned and left in the hands of grandparents. Tara simply followed her own path, her own needs and brooked no barriers that stood in the way. If it meant a period of homelessness for both mother and daughter having left the ashram rather than make contact with an ex-husband or parent, then a period of homelessness it was.

Now married herself, artist Antara struggles with her mother. Lies and evasions are part of their everyday as Tara’s memory fades more and more, forcing the decision to leave independent living and rely on her daughter.

Sadly, like mother, like daughter, both women are self-centred, lacking in generosity of spirit or love. Carrying that sense of abandonment along with an overly critical and judgemental parent leaves Antara unempathic: it’s her American-Indian husband, Dilip, who appears to show greater concern for Tara. Narrated by the unlikeable Antara, the result is a surprisingly cold, distant first novel lacking a compelling voice.

I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize but lost out to Douglas Stuart and Shuggie Bain.

2 thoughts on “‘Burnt Sugar’ by Avni Doshi

  1. Normally, I’d be keen for a book that has been listed for both the Booker and the Women’s Prize, but I can’t make my mind about this one, enthusiastic reviews are hard to find


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