Cover Image: A History of Burning

A History of Burning

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Member Reviews

A powerful saga spanning almost a century and several continents. Pirbhai is lured from his home in Gujarat to work the British railway project in far away Mombasa and so begins an unending quest for home, country, community and belonging. The story is long the characters are multiple and the pacing is slow but stay with it and you will find it well worth the ride.  It is a story of human resilience and the will to survive against all odds, the power of new beginnings and the strength of family. An epic tour de force!! 
Thank you NetGalley and Grand central publishing for the ARC
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ARC from NetGalley
Pub Day: 3/23/23

I like to begin my reviews with a short synopsis of the book’s plot, but that is difficult here. The short version is that this book is about a single family and how they live, grow, and change over a century. But that doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Spanning nearly 100 years and seen through the eyes of 9 different characters the real story is the interpersonal dynamics between these multiple generations of a single family as each individual strives to find a place in their family and the societies they inhabit, where they feel accepted and fully themselves. And it is beautiful. Every character has to deal with the traditional, generational, and gendered expectations of not only their family, but the cultures they live in and the tension between these expectations and their individual desires.

Janika Oza’s writing is superb. Each character, beautifully crafted with all their beauty and flaws on full display for the reader. I yearned for each of them to find what it was they needed, but knew that too often the world, or they themselves would get in the way. This book showed family, not idealized, but as it is with all the love, anger, fervor, compromise, stability, uncertainty, and hope that comes with it. I cannot recommend this book enough.
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Wow. What a debut! This is beautifully-written multigenerational novel that taught me so much about a history I didn’t know much about - the Indian-Uganda connection and the British colonialism/post therein. The book opens in 1898 when a poor Indian boy trying to help feed his family is tricked into a lifetime of indentured servitude. Decades and decades pass and within this time families grow and are dislocated and reformed. Choices and the complexity of family are explored within this writing that will make you feel like you’re sitting at a family meal with these characters. The author, Janika Oza, has undertaken a tremendous feat in this beautiful novel and I’m so glad I read it. Pick this one up. This one is brilliant.
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This sweeping multigenerational, historical fiction novel about an Indian family settled in Uganda will be perfect for fans of the Homegoing, Pachinko, and other great books of the genre. The writing is beautiful and I learned a lot about a time in history and a people I knew little about before, which is why I continue to pick up books like this. Unfortunately I struggled with the pacing and the many shifts in characters' perspectives so it moved very slowly for me. In some ways it read more like a series of interconnected stories than a continuous novel, which will be perfect for many readers, but just isn't exactly for me.
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This is a brilliant, complex, multi-generational story.   It's beautifully written and engaging.   It begins when Pirbhai, barely a teenager and frantically hunting for work to support his mother and sisters, is tricked into leaving India for Kenya to help build the East African railroad.  His story begins the family pattern of abrupt departures as he and his family scatter and reconnect and scatter again throughout their lives as they survive the brutality of the railroad, colonialism, multiple countries becoming independent, Partition, and Idi Amin's regime and the expulsion of Asians from Uganda.  They repeatedly build, lose, and rebuild their homes through the novel; while some of the stories are devastating, the novel itself is neither bleak or sugar-coated.  The narration passes between family members between 1898 and 1992, and each chapter has the resolution of a well-told short story, even when the events themselves are impossible to resolve.  I appreciated that we returned to the same characters at multiple key times in their lives, and I found all the characters interesting, complicated, and distinct from each other.  

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author, for the free earc in exchange for an honest review.  My opinions are all my own.
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The writing is very solid and beautiful and poetic at times. The author is strong and confident in the writing.

This book is structurally a collection of short stories.  They are inter-connected but each chapter reads like a short story--with a punchline (that climax or zinger) that is so iconic of short stories. 

There is breadth given that each chapter reflects a specific character's viewpoint across time or generation.  This does, however, create a certain start-and-stop effect.  The writing itself is affecting but only within the limits of a chapter.  The depth can only go so far per chapter, per character.

The book is about trauma, serial occurrences of trauma across generations.  Yes, it is about survival and reckoning with loss and regret.  Moreso, it is about surviving under oppressive systems, i.e., poverty, colonialism, and racism. 

I did not like the ending (before the epilogue). It felt abrupt and "convenient."  I also did not like the epilogue for being opaque or vague.  It was an attempt at hopefulness but missing the mark, it fell flat...that short story "wrap-up" suddenly absent or unachievable.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This book was incredible. It takes a really special writer to be able to cover almost 100 years, 9 perspectives, and 4 countries, and make it feel cohesive and flowing — but that’s what Janika Oza has done here, and in her DEBUT novel, no less!

It follows Pirbhai, an Indian boy taken from his home to build railroads in Africa for British settlers, and the family he builds. Four generations of the family face down poverty, persecution, and genocide — and time and time again, they rebuild. 

It did take me a couple chapters to sink into this story — there are years-long gaps between each character’s sections, which was a little jarring right at the start. But when you catch the rhythm of it, the style is really powerful. I loved how it felt like both one long narrative across decades, but also a series of vignettes, snapshots into this family’s relationships and realities. 

In the end, it’s all about the choices we make and how they set the direction of our family’s future — and how those future generations have choices of their own, to either mirror their parents’ priorities and dreams, or fly in the face of tradition and chart a different course. It’s an absolutely gorgeous story about a family protecting, abandoning, loving, directing, understanding (and misunderstanding), and most of all, forgiving one another. Cannot recommend it enough!

Thanks to Janika Oza, Grand Central Publishing, and NetGalley for providing a digital copy in exchange for an honest review. A History of Burning is available May 2!
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A generational saga that starts when a poor, hungry Indian boy unknowingly agrees to be an indentured servant in Uganda and spans through Uganda's freedom from colonialism and its expulsion of its Asian population.
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"A History of Burning" by Janika Oza is an absolutely brilliant debut!  Indeed, it is so well-crafted I have difficulty believing that is is a debut.  Spanning multiple generations, four continents,  and almost 100 years, this beautiful but heartbreaking novel follows an Indian family yearning for a place to belong in a world that doesn't seem to want them, against a backdrop of historical events about which most Americans know little.  I became invested in the characters from the very first page.  This book is an achingly intimate portrayal of the hardship real people endured under British colonial rule, the Partition and independence of India, the dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda, and resettlement in western nations with antiimmigrant sentiment.  This is not a feel-good read; the author does not sugarcoat or shy away from painful topics.  This novel does not whitewash history and plainly shows the ugliness, pain, and destruction caused by colonialism and its aftermath.  This is not a  novel I will soon forget and it is both entertaining and educational.  It is not a book that can be read quickly or superficially-there is a lot to unpack and savor in this incredible book.  I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy thought-provoking reads with substance, historical fiction, and generational sagas.  

Many thanks to NetGalley, Grand Central Publishing, and author Janika Oza for the privilege of  reading an advanced copy of this enthralling book, in exchange for my honest review.
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This was one of my favorite books to come out this year. A family saga shaped by abuses of power, economic status, and a socio-political history of colonial and post-colonial Uganda, this novel soars above other recent family sagas in its full realization of characters in each generation.

 Oza's way of providing historical context through the lives and experiences of Pirbhai and his descendants was graceful and emotionally resonant. From before the novel's very first burning, the way an imposed separation turns into rigid social stratification becomes painfully clear. Through the characters' experiences, readers are able to see how there are no heroes or villains amongst people struggling to live and grow in a society that was designed on the backs of others. The social criticism interlaced throughout the story was brilliant.

But it is the characters' fullness that truly stands out. Watching each generation grow up, respond to their contemporary reality, and begin again in a new place, readers are able to see how one person is actually so many people over the course of a lifetime. 

Though I was comparatively underwhelmed by the ending, wishing for clearer denouement as so many pieces of the story came to a head, I cannot recommend this book enough!
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The book was boring to me and it was too long. I usually like books based in Asia/Africa, but this one didn't have much exciting events to keep reading on
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Thank you to Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Books, and #NetGalley for providing an early copy for review.

Our story opens with an intriguing scene: a time of hunger, dusty longing, yet still bursting with hope. Those are the ingredients for desperation, which can spell danger, opportunity, or both. It is the turn of the 20th century, and many are learning firsthand about the brutality of colonialism. Slavery has been abolished only in name. Labor is as exploited as ever. The most vulnerable people of the story are constantly afraid of losing: their families, their home, their senses, their lives, even their own sense of self. It is a struggle to keep a fire burning inside to hold all of these elements. 

In addition to girding themselves against those potential losses, the early 20th century threw in a new one: war, where nearly everyone loses something precious. Still, the people find ways to preserve what they have. They encourage each other and ward against despair even as they carefully tend to each other's physical healing. Yet, they find themselves under colonial rule. They remain in the territorial grip of an absurd reality: a "protectorate," which of course, only serves to protect the interests of the empire, not them.

Throughout the novel, the author presents examples of the myriad of ways in which people justify to themselves what they do. Via tradition, survival, or by measuring who is most worthy, there's always a calculation when it comes to human interaction, even if it sometimes means twisting the truth beyond its breaking point. Nowhere is this more heavily evidenced than in the terrible tumultuous and violent years before Independence and Partition. 

The thing with the struggle for independence is that it tends to be catching, even sparking toward other continents. And just as India threw off their subjugation to the British Empire, people in African countries sought to throw off colonial rule as well. For the Asians who had fled to places like Kenya and Uganda to escape the twin trials of poverty and unrest, this must have been deeply unsettling. They'd sacrificed so much, only to find that they weren't actually safe anywhere. As long as there are struggles for power, it seems that conflict is inevitable. No matter how alike humanity, some will always want to divide everyone into a caste system, just as people tend to make snap judgments about where others fit into the pecking order. Wealth is the great insulator, but sometimes even that isn't enough. 

The author does a seamless integration of the macro and micro picture of what it means to be independent, to gain or lose respect, to form community, and to absolve guilt. In the end, as people look upon their lives, perhaps their biggest regret will be a seminal moment in which their fears overcame their courage. This is, the author seems to be saying, the most important lesson life teaches. Everyone, regardless of their status, has that one chance to act with the courage to do what is right, even if that means  making a terrifying decision whose effects cannot be anticipated. A single act of courage can separate one from their own family, or from the destiny that they think they deserve. 

The years which immediately follow a great upheaval are often among the most dangerous. The work of revolution continues. When significant power is uprooted, the result is a void so large that nearly anything can rush in to fill it. I was just a child when it was all happening, but it grieves me that I didn't know more about Idi Amin's Reign of Terror. He put into effect disappearances much like Pinochet, and political and ethnic cleansing campaigns worse that some of the worst dictators throughout history. 

The plight of the refugee is something which none of us who have not experienced it can begin to comprehend. And even among the most welcoming of people, there lies a crouching latent racism waiting to be coaxed out. The casual microaggressions and assumptions White people have about folks from other countries specifically, and people of color in general, sets my teeth on edge. How can so many people be so Xenophobic and culturally closed-off?

Still, the most painful moments in the story are not when groups of people turn on each other, but rather when family members and friends lose hope in one another. It seems like a much greater betrayal.

How does a family repair the damage done by long-held secrecy? Again, we return to the theme of courage: the courage to speak the truth, to do the right thing, to forgive one another, to repair long-held rifts. Some memories, kept hidden, need a lot more space to expand, once revealed, lest everyone be crushed by them. 

This is a good multi-generational epic with stark lessons for everyone.
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Thanks very much to the publisher and NetGalley for this eARC. This was a fantastic, engrossing historical epic that drew me in, especially with the beautiful, effective prose, from the first paragraph. I'll definitely look forward to future novels by this author.
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4.5/5: I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and multi-generational family stories and South Asian representation in any form so it's probably no surprise to anyone that I was really intrigued by this book. We follow the story of Pirbhai, a young Indian boy, who gets scammed into traveling to Africa to work on the East African Railway in hopes of securing work to help out his ailing family. Pirbhai struggles to navigate being separated from his family and his culture, being in a foreign country and trying his hardest to survive. 

At first, I was surprised by how bluntly the chapters end and how quickly we were jumping through time because in "Pachinko" (a personal favorite book of mine and an apt comparison in my opinion), the audience spent more time progressing along with the family and were able to experience day-to-day life with them. But I soon realized that the main strength of this book was Oza's ability to skillfully control how much she shared of the family's life in each chapter (which is separated by years and locations) and still have the audience understand all the nuances and be able to read between the lines and fully comprehend the depth and complexity of all the characters and their emotions. Instead of learning the daily workings of the family at that stage, you get a snapshot of their current situation - their emotions, the political climate, the family dynamic and such - and I think it makes this book more palatable to people who are easily bored by historical fiction. 

Most importantly, this book was such a great introduction to the history of Indo-Ugandans, British colonialism in East Africa, and the political prosecution of Asians under Ugandan President Amin's rule. I was pretty ignorant to it and not only was I moved emotionally by the story itself, but I found myself doing research about the current state of affairs after finishing the book - that's the makings of great novel. I highly recommend picking this up if anything mentioned in this review speaks to you.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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As someone who enthusiastically devours multigenerational-spanning historical fiction whenever I get my hands on it, “A History of Burning” instantly proved to be right up my alley. I loved getting to know the family over the years as they navigated and endured an array of shifts and traumas. I also enjoyed the themes of resilience and starting over in a new land far from home that were deeply woven into the story’s fabric (and also admittedly found said themes to be quite heartbreaking at times as well). 

Though I’ll be honest, I think what was truly my favorite part was the opportunity that “A History of Burning” gave me to learn a little about the experience of Indian immigrants in East Africa through the book’s cast. It’s a group whose story I had a very weak prior familiarity with, to put it kindly, and am now quite interested in - especially how they appear to have been impacted by the footprints of the British Empire on multiple complex levels not only across several generations, but numerous continents too. 

I see this as a must-read for fans of books like Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing”  or Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko.” And I’ll be more than happy to do my part for said readers to try and get this title on display in the Popular Reads reads section of the academic library that I work at.
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Janika Oza grabbed me from the start of this excellent novel about immigration and its effect on families for generations into the future. Pirbhai, a young boy from Gujarat, was tricked into boarding a ship headed for slave-like conditions working on a railroad in Uganda.

Pirbhai, his wife, and his children create a story that is a compelling read. My heart stayed with the family and the grandchildren as history unfolded and struck at their existence. I loved reading each character's inner thoughts and feelings as the story developed. JO clarified that the ordeal Pirbhai experienced impacted all his family members many years into the future. This family's story informs many of us descended from immigrants who fled poverty or prosecution. I can't recommend this exceptional novel enough. It is a must-read book for 2023.

Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the advanced copy of the book.
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A staggering debut about family and home that spans decades and continents. A young man experiences an unexpected cleaving from his family, leading to more separations and, eventually, some reunions. Along the way, I learned much about what was happening in Asia and Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Unfortunately, the United States curriculum fails to discuss these things in any meaningful way or any way at all mostly.
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Beginning in 1898 with a young boy, Pirbhai, being tricked into traveling from India to Africa to help build the East African Railway, this sweeping saga traces the story of four generations told in snapshots through the years. This family is representative of Asians settling in Uganda during British Colonial Rule and, following the country’s independence and ascendence of Idi Amin, their expulsion in 1972 and worldwide resettlement.  

I wasn’t sure about this book.  It did take me a few chapters to settle in,  but once  I did, I couldn’t put it down; I was totally captivated by it.   Beautifully written, I learned a lot of history of which I was only vaguely aware.  There is so much here, but it is not overwhelming.  Well written, there is warmth, love, benevolence, brutality, resilience. 

Whenever I read books that tell stories like this one, I am left aghast about how helpless the world is when confronting dictators, the inhumanity of mankind in how it often treats others and how unwilling some are to assist refugees. This book will stay in my head for a while.

This is an incredible work from a debut author.
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A History of Burning is a beautiful story of family and hope, but the switching points of view became confusing throughout the 4 generations of family members featured and, while the wisdom shared was profound, it was an incredibly slow read.
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This is quite the saga. The beginning could be a little slow to some but once you get into it and know the characters, it is easy to read. The characters will switch a lot in the beginning but it is not hard to keep them straight once you know them. I think this story is the true definition of a saga because it takes place over a long period of time but with one family and how they are affected.
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