Cover Image: Burnt Sugar

Burnt Sugar

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This book is very dark but it's a necessary read.  There is a very toxic mother/daughter relationship and I wasn't expecting it to be that toxic. I understand why this was nominated for the Booker Prize
Was this review helpful?
This was a tough one! Burnt Sugar is about a very dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship. Toxic mother alert!

The story is primary told from the perspective of the daughter, Antara. In 19080's India, her mother Tara, left her marriage and dragged her young daughter along to an ashram to be closer to a guru that she's become infatuated with. As a young child, Antara bore witness to the strange happenings at the ashram. Tara was a neglectful mother who physically and emotionally inured her daughter. They lived on the street for awhile, where Antara came down with scabies. Antara grew up with more than her share of damage. Flash forward a few decades, Antara is an artist living in the States and is married to an Indian-American man. Her mother is suffering from dementia and Antara and her husband return to India to help care for her. There are numerous flashbacks to the 80's and 90's as Antara revisits her childhood and young adult years.

Antara's voice is cold and aloof. She relays her years of emotional pain and her mixed feelings for her mother in a way that didn't warm me up to her. Yes, she was clearly a victim of a lot of childhood trauma but she kept us, the reader at a distance. We can see her internal struggle of how to best take care of a mother who never really took good care of her. Antara's voice in the book is unsentimental in its analysis of this troubled mother/daughter relationship.
Was this review helpful?
this is an intricate book about a daughters complicated relationship with her mother. but more so how that initial relationship has impacted every other moment and relation in the daughters life. it is not for the faint hearted in it's descriptions of old age, abuse, bodily functions and the dark thoughts that cross all our minds. it was an honest (brutally so) portrait of a girls thoughts.
Was this review helpful?
I must admit that I finished this book primarily because it was short. While the writing style and premise intrigued me at the beginning, as the story wound on the main character just got more and more annoying to me. I feel like the author was trying to embody the ~distant artist~ vibe, which can work in some iterations, but here I found it so odd. She is an artist and clearly thinks abt her practice and emotions in some sense, yet the narrative was so flat—there is no emotional depth here. The main character refuses to address any trauma that she has faced, and while that kind of leads into the bizarre ending, I don't think it was worthwhile. It just made the story feel very shallow.

Besides that, I found the narrative structure to just be a bit lacking and jumpy—quickly going from flashback to present and back again. It was hard for me to form a coherent picture of her present day. I also thought this would be more about her mother's memory loss but instead it devolves into a picture of the main character's trauma—yet doesn't bother to really examine that much in context with her mother's memory loss.

The ending really turned the book on its head, though. I think on one hand, it added a real level of interest when contemplating the story as a whole. But even so, I still feel like it didn't add much to the story to make me like it more. While I understand what Doshi was trying to do with this book, I just feel like it fell flat for me. There was something missing—I think I just wanted more depth and acknowledgement of trauma and memory.
Was this review helpful?
Antara and her mother have always had a difficult relationship and now her mother, in her fifties, has dementia. As she struggles to find a solution to her mother's care, the novel goes back in time to her unconventional upbringing in an ashram where her mother leaves her to be cared for by an American woman when she becomes the guru's newest paramour. Her adolescence and young adulthood are likewise marked by abuse and insecurity. Neither Antara nor her mother are able to relate to each other with love or respect and their other relationships are marked by conflict and manipulation. 

An author takes a risk in choosing to write about an unsympathetic character. It's a balancing act to make the narrator unpleasant and to still have the reader invested in what happens to the narrator. And whether you think that Doshi succeeds in this will determine how you react to this novel. Doshi provides Antara with a childhood that should make the reader root for her and to understand why she is unable to form bonds with anyone, but then she multiplies the many ways Anatara's inability to form attachments harms the people around her. 

This isn't an easy novel to read, nor is it intended to be.
Was this review helpful?
Antara is an artist living in India with her husband. She’s never had a good relationship with her mother, Tara, but now her mother’s health may be failing and Antara as the only child feels like she needs to step in and help.

We learn that when Tara was a young wife, she fled from her staid life and marriage and joined an ashram with young Antara in tow. At the ashram, Tara becomes the mistress of the guru and Antara is left to the care of other women for the most part. When Tara finally leaves the ashram her life continues on a rocky path.

Needless to say, Tara has never confronted her mother about the past and how can she do that now when her mother’s suffering from dementia. She wants to help but at every turn her mother still manages to remind her of past hurts. Moments like when Antara brings her mother home and all Tara can do is disparage Antara’s artistic work. Tara can still manage to be cruel and no matter how old, Antara is, it still hurts.

What is interesting is that neither character is sympathetic but I don’t want to spoil why I had concerns about Antara, you’ll have to read for yourself. I think mother-daughter relationships in novels can be extremely fascinating to explore the themes of forgiveness, compassion, love, etc. but this novel left me feeling like there was no closure for either character. Like it was too late which is ultimately a very depressing thought. I had very high hopes for this nominated Booker Prize novel but overall it was not a winner for me.
Was this review helpful?
What an outstanding book. Brutal in its reality, it shows the beauty and the ugliness in relationships. This book is mainly about the dynamics of the daughter and mother, with a iittle of husband/wife drama thrown in.

This is about a mother aging out and in the beginnings of Altzheimers. What makes this story different yet probably a familiar one to many readers is that the daughter doesn't like her mom. But of course the burden of caring for her mom falls on her. 

Her mother was negligent throughout their lives putting her needs before her daughter. The main trauma comes from living in a commune with the daughter being separated from her mom. Even after the commune, her mother puts men first.

This book is unapologetic in its reality and this is what makes it a thing of beauty.

I'm anxiously waiting for more books from Avnie Doshi.
Was this review helpful?
A mother and daughter relationship with ups and downs. Well written and the characters are memorable. There is an unexpected secret that evolves from the daughter's art work. Very descriptive and thought provoking.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
3.5 Stars.

This is a complicated book. This book looks at the relationship between a mother and daughter. One where the roles begin to shift. The narrator Antara is watching her mother slowly slip away and start to forget things. She is now faced with taking care of her and struggling with their past. Her mother did not seem to care for Antara while growing up. Throughout the book you are taken back to Antara's childhood as she grapples with her relationship with her mother. This book has left me unsettled. The writing was hard to follow in parts and was disturbing. I do believe the author intended to create these feelings as you are reading to really establish how complicated it would be to step in and care for your mother and also to watch a parent slip away.

I don't think this would be a book for everyone and could definitely be a difficult read if you had a tough relationship with a parent or have experienced dementia with someone you know.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy
Was this review helpful?
An amazing book with little sentimentality about trauma, mothers, daughters, and memory. Possibly one of my new favorite books ever.⁣
In a nutshell:⁣
Burnt Sugar is a glimpse into the inner thoughts of Antara, an artist reckoning with the trauma inflicted upon her by her mother. Meanwhile, her mother (Tara) is beginning to show signs of dementia. Antara is also struggling with a deep ambivalence towards the prospect of her own possible foray into motherhood.⁣
Avna Doshi is one hell of an author. It’s no surprise this was nominated for a Booker Prize. It’s not a pleasant story, but it’s a whopper of a piece of writing. I’ve seen this book described all over the place as a book about mothers and daughters. That’s partially true, but I think it’s also a very accurate depiction of the cycle of trauma and its effects across generations. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and all of them have elements of both abusers and victims. ⁣
Antara eventually does find herself as a new mother with postpartum depression. She clips her baby’s fingernails, keeps the clippings bundled in a handkerchief, and thinks:⁣
“This is madness. I feel it – I inch towards it daily. But it’s a necessary madness, without which the species might never propagate.”⁣
I feel that description of motherhood to my core. It reminds me of my mom, who kept a desiccated piece of my umbilical cord. I thought it was disgusting, and told her so. I still think it’s gross, but now that I’ve got a kid of my own, I can certainly understand it a little better.
Was this review helpful?
I could barely get through this book. I don't want to blame the current global pandemic for this entirely, but right now times are tough and a little bleak. This book is VERY bleak. So I think that reading this would be hard on people who are already feeling the mental pinch of this seemingly neverending pandemic. It's a dark book that is also pretty disturbing. One character dreams of incest in a way that is far too graphic for me to stomach. I had to put this down several times and come back to it. I honestly only finished so I could write this review. But most of what I read is not something I want to put in this review, lest I have to remember it. I just want to forget this book. Sorry, it is well written and all, but the story is just feels like an abusive burden.
Was this review helpful?
The premise of a stormy mother/daughter relationship (to put it mildly) was intriguing, but I just couldn't get into this one.  I am surprised that it was nominated for the Booker Prize of 2020.  I don't know if it was the writing or something else, but I couldn't finish this one.
Was this review helpful?
“Burnt Sugar” is the debut novel by Avni Doshi, which was first published in India and then shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020. It was also named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020.

It’s about the complicated—and often tumultuous—relationship between a rebellious and narcissistic mother and her overbearing, resentful daughter. Because of this tension, it’s not a joyful read. And it might make you recall our own relationship with your mum. 

Like many mothers and daughters, Antara and Tara have a love-hate relationship. They dislike each other, yet they cannot be without each other. I can relate! In my experience, it seems like most women are better friends with their mums when there’s a good bit of distance separating them. Maybe it’s because we’re more like our mothers than we wish to admit? It’s often the things that annoy us that are mirrored in our own behavior.

“Burnt Sugar” is also about betrayal, shifting memories and memory loss. It’s about the daughter who must care for her increasingly forgetful mother—even though she was never really nurtured in the same way. Yet they are both a bit ambivalent toward one another. “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure,” said daughter Antara of her mother, Tara. 

This literary fiction is well done but it’s not a book you sail through. It’s better when savored a bit here and there.
Was this review helpful?
Burnt Sugar is the story of a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship that is turned upside down (again) when the mother begins experiencing symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Antara and her husband begin to care for Tara in their Pune, India home, and tensions quickly mount. On a personal note, three of my grandparents suffered from debilitating dementia before their passing; Avni Doshi certainly captured the fear, frustration and hopelessness of being a caregiver and watching a loved one deteriorate. 

Tara and Antara are both very flawed, very human women who react to their circumstances accordingly. I've given mediocre reviews to a couple of character studies of flailing twenty-somethings this month (Luster, Exciting Times); I think Tara and Antara's younger selves would have fit that loathsome trope! I'm still totally over that style of narrative, but dare I say it was interesting to see how a detached, self-destructive young woman might act in her 30s, or  - via flashbacks - how such a character might have rebelled a generation ago in India. 

I was so-so on Burnt Sugar throughout much of the text; maybe that's because the Alzheimer's content was hard for me to read. The final scenes were heartbreakingly beautiful, though, and I haven't stopped thinking about these women all day. In my mind, that makes for a pretty good book.
Was this review helpful?
Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, this is a firework of a novel. Antara, who lives in India,  has long had a fraught relationship with her mother who is unsupportive of her daughter’s career choice as an artist. But now that Antara’s mother’s memory is potentially suffering from Alzheimer’s, Antara feelings complicate. She feels as though she needs to take care of her and yet, her mother’s casual cruelties worsen, causing Antara to flashbacks as a child growing up on an Ashram, during a time when her mother was a different person altogether, freer, wilder. This is not a straightforward narrative; it weaves back and forth in time. Fragments of memories pop up and then we are jolted into a different time and place in the story. But if you are the type of reader for whom a less straight forward structure and form is not so obtrusive, then what you will be left with is this powerful novel about memory, mother daughter relationships and loss. I found this novel to be smart, wonderfully written, surprising, funny and heartbreaking. Thank you to The Overlook Press and Netgalley for the advanced review copy.
Was this review helpful?
This novel appeared on the shortlist for the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction so I was anxious to read it and requested a digital galley before its North American release date of January 26.  Unfortunately, it was a disappointment.

The narrator is Antara, a woman in her mid-thirties living in Pune, India.  Her mother Tara seems to be in the early stages of dementia and Antara is left caring for a mother who didn’t take care of her daughter.  In sections set in the 1980s, we see Tara moving into an ashram to be the mistress of a guru; to do so she abandons her marriage and becomes estranged from her parents.  She takes Antara with her but neglects her:  “she would disappear every day, dripping with milk, leaving me unfed.”  For a time, the two live on the streets.  Though married and financially secure, Antara knows that her childhood continues to affect her life:  “my mother leaving my father, and my father letting us both go, has coloured my view of all relationships.”

Tara is an interesting, though unlikeable, character.  As a young woman, Tara is a free spirit obsessed with self-actualization, with pursuing her own dreams.  She lacks inhibition and lives her life free of guilt; she refuses the demands of motherhood and makes no apologies for her behaviour.  Though one might admire her desire for personal growth and happiness, there is no doubt that she is selfish.  Antara describes her mother as emotionally immature:  “emotionally, she has never progressed past being a teenager.  She is still at the mercy of hormones.  She still thinks in terms of freedom and passion.  And love.”  When angry or hurt, she lashes out at Antara, slapping her and calling her “’a fat little bitch.’”  Tara tends to compare herself to her daughter:  she would compare their bodies and comment that “her breasts were bigger than mine, but my waist was smaller.  She would comment on how my positive attributes were a symptom of age, declaring with certainty that my ugliness would surpass hers when I reached my forties. . . . she was pleased to tell me these things, to know that I would suffer as she had . . . did she ever see me as a child . . . [or] Did she always see me as a competitor, or, rather, an enemy?”  

Antara tends to receive sympathy from the reader as she details her childhood of abuse and neglect.  But then it becomes clear that Antara is not flawless.  Her behaviour towards her mother can be interpreted as self-preservation or as revenge.  She suffers from post-partum depression and her thoughts are distressing:  “I am tired of this baby.  She demands too much, always hungering for more. . . .  I’ve never been a stickler for manners, but this baby doesn’t stand on ceremony.  She’s a rude little bitch if I ever met one.”  

There is also some suggestion that Antara is not a reliable narrator.  Her memories of the past cannot be verified by Tara who is losing her memory but Antara’s grandmother questions the accuracy of some of her granddaughter’s memories.  Tara may be suffering from memory loss caused by dementia but perhaps Antara’s memory is selective.  One character says, “’We are all unreliable.  The past seems to have a vigour that the present does not.’”  It is interesting that Antara several times refers to madness (“This is madness.  I feel it – I inch towards it daily”) and at least two other people refer to her madness:  “’Hoarding this garbage will make you madder than you are’” and “’You should worry about your own madness instead of mine.’”  

This book can be commended for its depiction of the complicated emotions a caregiver can experience when trying to care for a person with whom she has had a difficult relationship.  However, it didn’t captivate me, and I found myself wanting to skim just to reach the end of the book.  The discussions of Antara’s art go on and on.  Some events, like the trip to Goa, seem irrelevant.  Perhaps I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind but trying to decipher the significance of some of the digressions just didn’t appeal.  

The winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, also deals with a complex parent-child relationship.  Its examination is so realistic, empathetic, and powerful that the book left me in awe. The depiction of the parent-child relationship in Burnt Sugar is less successful so I’m not surprised that it didn’t win the prestigious award.

Note:  I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.
Was this review helpful?
“We actively make memories, you know. And we make them together. We remake memories, too, in the image of what other people remember.”

In Burnt Sugar, Avni Doshi explores how we build and maintain relationships as Antara supports her mother Tara as memory slips away and dementia takes hold.

For me, Burnt Sugar was a deeply unsettling read. It starts as a conventional story of a daughter dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s in a parent. It includes the flashbacks you’d expect in that kind of narrative. But as mother Tara loses her memories and Antara explores her own, the boundaries between past and present, mother and daughter, real and imagined become increasingly blurry and we find ourselves uncertain of what we can trust.

If you’ve been close to someone as dementia has progressed, this book may evoke familiar feelings about the fickleness of memory. When suddenly the person who you’ve shared a memory with no longer remembers it or does so in a completely distorted fashion, you start to question the solidity of what you thought was an indisputable fact. If our relationships are built through shared experiences, what’s left when the memories start to break down, fall apart, or become unrecognizable? What is lost and what is revealed?

Having had a parent with dementia, I recognized that feeling of having a parent who is there but not there. That feeling of being adrift, of being unsure of the future but also increasingly insecure in the past. When their grasp on reality slips, the reverberations shake yours as well. The responsibilities of care-giving hone down our feelings to their very roots. As the person you knew ceases to exist, you’re forced to face what you know and how you feel and it haunts every moment of your day. Doshi has captured the overwhelming, claustrophobic burden of care and memory in a story I won’t soon forget.

I can definitely understand why Burnt Sugar was on the Booker Prize short list. It’s a powerful exploration of what happens when the carer roles switch in a parent-child relationship. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to talk to someone about it when you finish.

Although it was nominated for The Booker Prize last summer it’s just now being released in North America (this coming Tuesday). Many thanks to Abrams Books and NetGalley for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Burnt Sugar is one of those books that has a lot of interesting messages but is so dark and at times unsettling that it’s hard to “enjoy.” I appreciated the book for its unflinching honesty, exploration of past trauma, and portrayal of incredibly toxic relationships
Was this review helpful?
As Tara slowly loses her memory, her adult daughter struggles with her anger towards her mother and her obligation to be her caregiver. Unlikeable characters.
Was this review helpful?
This is a poetic dissection of a deeply toxic mother-daughter relationship that also raises questions about memory. It's told in dual time line. In the present, Antara is dealing with her mother Tara's looming dementia as well as her own postpartum depression. It's also the story of Antara's youth, when Tara took her to an ashram and them essentially abandoned her in favor of a guru. Antara was cared for by another woman there and then sent to a horrid boarding school. How can Antara help a woman who was so disinterested in her as a child? Doshi packs a lot into this relatively slim novel (perhaps too much) which becomes perhaps a bit too graphic at times. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC of this Booker Long listed novel. Not, perhaps the most enjoyable read but a worthy one fans of literary fiction will admire.
Was this review helpful?