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Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

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 disheveled, 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.

Author Avni Doshi uses alternate timelines to tell the story of Antara - the daughter faced with becoming the mother - and the other chronologically re-telling Antara's childhood. The latter focuses largely on the time she spent in an ashram after her mother and father separated.

Doshi ponders the evolving roles of mother and daughter, touching on inclusion and belonging, and change. While I could see what Doshi was trying to get at, for me there was no unifying voice. It left me feeling adrift, not really connecting to any character, and as such the storyline began to drag a bit.

The characters really aren't relatable, nor do they - or the situations they are in - seem authentic. It was hard to feel emotionally attached to the storyline, or the characters.

Doshi certainly has great potential, this is her debut novel. There are sentences that sparkle, but while parts are beautifully written, it lacked focus and ended up in one big jumble for me.

Perhaps it was the longlisting for the Booker Prize that did it in for me - I had high hopes. Burnt Sugar has all the key ingredients that would normally draw me in; family dynamics, culture, motherhood, art. But I just couldn't connect with it.

Reviewed by: Rebekah Lyell

Penguin RandomHouse, RRP $35


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