Burnt Sugar

Author(s): Avni Doshi

Novel | 2020 Booker Prize long list | Booker Prize short list 2020 | Read our reviews!

In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless 'artist' - all with her young child in tow. Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid's wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.

This is a love story and a story about betrayal. But not between lovers - between mother and daughter. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery cords of memory and myth that bind two women together, and hold them apart.



With the quotation, “Does the wound of daughter turn into something else if left unattended?” from Linda Yuknavitch opening this novel, you are, from the start of this Booker finalist, set on a course. Burnt Sugar is a sharp-edged portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship that has love, revenge and confusion at its core. Antara, the daughter, is in the throes of her mother’s madness. A madness that has invaded her life from the outset, in one sense or the other. A madness of selfishness and obsession leads Tara, as a young mother, to gather her baby, leave her husband, and follow the guru at the local ashram. Her sexual relationship with the guru leaves her young child to the whims of communal life and, fortunately, the hands of an older woman, Kali Mata. Antara’s memories of this time are fragmented and, at times, frightening, and these early years of abandonment mark her interactions with both her parents as well as making her wary of close relationships with others. When Tara does leave the ashram, her relationship with the guru in tatters, it does nothing to heal the wound for Antara — the daughter is never good enough — a burden who is endured rather than loved, and later a competitor for attention as Tara ages. While Doshi does not overstate the interactions of Antara with her husband, friends and, later, her own baby, it is clear by her behaviour that she has difficulty finding emotional security in her everyday life. Antara is an artist and her artworks focus on memory and obsession. She has a daily project — drawing and redrawing the same face each day — the small changes recorded over time reflect the way in which actions are rewritten incrementally. This project in itself reveals the complex relationship between mother and daughter — one of misguided love and obsession. While it is easy to see this novel as a story of a poisonous mother, this would do Avni Doshi’s novel an injustice. Yes, Antara at times sees her mother’s dementia as a penance for her bad behaviour and for her failure as a parent, and Tara does still inflict destruction in her present incarnation — habitually as much as anything, but there is also an empathy here for her mother’s state, if not forgiveness, especially as she deals with her own sense of entrapment by marriage and motherhood. Doshi explores these themes, along with the expectations of women’s roles in contemporary India, with a honed eye and acid wit. Revenge comes in spoon-fed sugar mouthfuls, and love is elusive, yet hovering at the edges, for Antara. She is not your average heroine nor villain — a victim but also a perpetrator of deceit: Doshi’s portrayal of a young woman at odds with the world she lives in — middle-class India — and at odds with her mother — “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure” — is searingly honest.  


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 A searing debut novel about mothers and daughters, obsession and betrayal - for fans of Jenny Offill's Weather, Deborah Levy's Hot Milk and Diana Evans' Ordinary People.


Shortlisted - Booker Prize 2020

Longlisted - Women's Prize for Fiction 2021


An unsettling, sinewy debut, startling in its venom and disarming in its humour from the very first sentence Arresting and fiercely intelligent, disarmingly witty and frank... Horror stories from the past seep into the present, as Doshi builds her portrait of a fractured mother-daughter relationship --Sunday Times

A masterclass. Crisp, engaging, perfectly tragic in the way that families often tend to be... Doshi writes sharply, in no-nonsense prose, not a single sentence in the book can be omitted... Avni Doshi is a force to watch out for in the literary world --Scroll

A corrosive, compulsive debut --Sunday Telegraph (five stars)

Subtle, intelligent, thrilling, visceral This caustic tale of a destructive mother-daughter bond is as potent as its title might suggest... It bristles with sharp, chilly aphorisms... Doshi's visceral debut is a no-holds-barred excavation of how hate can both poison and sustain -- Daily Mail

Scouringly brilliant, a blazing debut that sticks in the mind like caramel blackened to the bottom of a pan... Doshi draws our relationships, both with the truth and with other people, with words that glitter sharp as shards of broken mirror --Buro.

A sly, slippery, often heartbreaking novel about the role memory plays within families --Stylist

Burnt Sugar straddles the line between pain and beauty. It makes the stomach churn. And, like all great literature, it prompts the question of the reader: is this you? --Bad Form

Crystalline, surgical, compulsively readable. An examination of toxic relationships and the ties that bind us A disturbing tale of memory and forgetfulness, questioning the relevance and the authenticity of both. --Indian Express


Avni Doshi was born in New Jersey in 1982 and is currently based in Dubai. She won the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize in 2013 and a Charles Pick Fellowship at the University of East Anglia in 2014. Her debut novel, Burnt Sugar, is longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020. A version of the same novel is also published in India under the title Girl in White Cotton.




General Fields

  • : 9780241441510
  • : Penguin Books, Limited
  • : Penguin Books
  • : 0.24
  • : March 2018
  • : 1.8 Centimeters X 13.5 Centimeters X 21.6 Centimeters
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Avni Doshi
  • : Paperback
  • : English
  • : 813.6
  • : 240