For readers of Tommy Orange, Yaa Gyasi, and Jhumpa Lahiri, A Burning is an electrifying debut novel about three unforgettable characters who seek to rise–to the middle class, to political power, to fame in the movies–and find their lives entangled in the wake of a catastrophe in contemporary India. We spoke with author Megha Majumdar about her inspiration, audiobook releases she’s anticipating, and more.
Majumdar’s suspenseful narrative holds a mirror up to society at large, reflecting the lies people tell themselves to rationalize sacrificing morality for personal gain. Unintended consequences from an impulsive social media post explode against a backdrop of deep economic insecurities and centuries-old prejudices. A searing debut, this novel is timely and timeless. It packs a punch way above its weight. Brilliant.Lisa Johnson, Penguin Bookshop
Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovely–an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humor–has the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear.
Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism. An extraordinary debut.
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
I wrote this book from a place of anger and alarm while watching the rise of the right wing in India. I wanted to explore how even in conditions of hate-filled nationalism and great systemic oppression, individuals confront the might of the state and continue to chase big dreams; in A Burning, they chase dreams of rising to the middle class, securing political power, and the wild dream of becoming a movie star.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
The pace of it! I wanted to write a story that moves swiftly, and that rewards every minute of a reader’s attention.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
I can’t wait to listen—the voice-actors are so gifted and skilled, as I know from listening to their samples. It’ll be a whole, lively, bustling world with their voices.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
Yes! Before the pandemic, I listened to audiobooks on my commute (a few times I walked the whole way to work, listening)! Now, I listen to audiobooks while cooking. Recently I’ve loved A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo and The View from Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
When I was trying to build a life as an immigrant in New York, independent bookstores allowed me to participate in literary culture. I went to so many readings. I browsed tables even when I couldn’t afford to buy a hardcover. And no independent bookstore ever made me feel unwelcome. They were refuge; they helped me orient myself in a new city and helped me feel that I had a foothold here.
And now, well, those who work as booksellers have lifted up A Burning—I still remain astonished and grateful that they took the time during the pandemic to vote and make it a #1 Indie Next Pick for June. They have given it a chance at a long life. I couldn’t ask for more.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
May I take this opportunity to boost the work of some authors whose work I love? I can’t wait for the audiobooks of Wayétu Moore’s memoir The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, and Raven Leilani’s debut novel Luster, which I think will be really fun to listen to. Thank you so much for this space!
Header photo by Elena Seibert