BURNT SUGAR | Kirkus Reviews

Dark emotions color a daughter’s complex connection to her mother in a striking first novel that delves deep into family bonds.

“I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.” This is the devastating opening sentence of American writer Doshi’s provocative debut, which offers a fierce, compelling depiction of the painfully intertwined lives of a mother and daughter in Pune, India. Tara, the mother, was neglectful and careless; Antara, the daughter, will become her unwilling but affixed life companion. Abandoning a gloomy marriage to join an ashram and become the lover of Baba, its leader, Tara exhibits a pattern of inadequate parenting that continues, four years later, when Baba replaces her with a younger model. Tara and Antara, now 7, are next to be found begging outside the Club in Pune, eventually to be rescued by Antara’s father, who, meanwhile, has divorced Tara and is remarrying. These and other episodes from the past—including Tara’s later love affair with an unreliable artist and Antara’s lonely months spent at an abusive boarding school—are sandwiched between slices of the contemporary narrative. Here Tara is sliding into dementia and Antara, comfortably married to Dilip, is trying to care for the parent whose care of her was so disastrous. Antara’s voice is frank, skeptical, even comical while exposing the fragile psychology life has dealt her. Above all, she scrutinizes the unbreakable/unbearable link to a figure who haunts and half subsumes her, a razor’s edge which Doshi captures in simple, effective prose: “Even now, when I…want to be without her, when I know her presence is the source of my unhappiness—that learned longing still rises, that craving for soft, white cotton that has frayed at the edge.”

A landmark portrait of toxic parenting and its tangled aftermath.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-4197-5292-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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