A Burning

Knopf. Jun. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780525658696. $25.95. F
DEBUT And what has burned? A train, torched in the Kolabagan railway station with more than 100 left dead. Jivan, a determined young Muslim woman from the slums, witnessed the attack and has taken righteously to social media, even posting a video clip she’s found insinuating that the police did nothing. When she gets pushback, she says, “I wrote a foolish thing. I wrote a dangerous thing, a thing nobody like me should ever think, let alone write,” suggesting that perhaps the government is also a terrorist. Soon she is hauled off to jail, accused of consorting with the terrorists and of committing crimes against the nation, her remarks exploited by a nationalist gym teacher who once had her as a student. Even neighbor Lovely, to whom she was teaching English and who as a hijra might understand unwarranted attacks, pulls back from supporting Jivan owing to her big movie-star ambitions. Weaving together these story lines, the author offers fresh, brisk, striking language while remaining relentless in her depiction of Jivan’s fate and of the kind of rampant suspicion and finally hatred that burns us all. [See Prepub Alert, 12/9/19.]

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