I’ve been reading a lot of books this year that focus on women’s experiences – how they relate to themselves, to their partners, to their mothers. Burnt Sugar also falls into that category, as it tells the story of Antara, an Indian woman dealing with her mother’s descent into dementia, while at the same time reckoning with her dissatisfaction with how her life has turned out, and exploring her traumatic childhood.
I made the mistake of reading a couple of Goodreads reviews after I finished this, and was surprised at how much vitriol there is for this book. A lot of reviewers said they hated the vulgarity, which I can understand, though it didn’t feel excessive to me. Maybe it stands out so much more against the backdrop of a relatively restricted and stifling situation, or maybe I have a higher tolerance for it than most. (“My vagina is a crime scene” was an observation Antara made after giving birth to her daughter -a good example of the “disgusting” language some readers didn’t like.)
Another common complaint was that Antara’s inner life and struggles felt stale and cliched. It’s definitely not the most original novel, but Avni Doshi peppered the story with observations that sent a jolt of recognition through me every couple of pages, as my thoughts wandered to my own relationships. It’s Doshi’s ability to elicit that emotional response that I think makes this book a worthwhile read.
Sometimes, when we are too many in the house, I wish she would die, at least for a little while, and then come back in any form I saw fit. Maybe a dog who would follow me around. Even as these thoughts enter my head, I can’t believe I am thinking them. I love her, my mother. I love her to death. I don’t know where I’d be without her. I don’t know who I would be. If she would only stop being such a terrible cunt, I would get her back on track.