A story told through the span of a century of family history. It's an interesting book from the historical perspective, a grand scale, rather than intimate, experience.
A multi-generational story that takes the reader on a journey through time and the world. It broke my heart from the beginning when Pirbhai as a teenager is stolen from his home in India. He along with other young boys, is made to work for the British on African railroads. To survive he does things that he cannot forget or forgive himself for.
The story takes us through his life as he raises his own kids. He is able to give them a better life with different choices. However, his past decisions and actions are a big part of his legacy and continue to haunt him. It is a fascinating and emotional story.
There was a time in my life in which 'sweeping generational saga' was the hot ticket from bookstore bookshelf to my tote bag and home; but....I am just not in that era anymore. If anything, that descriptor now reads to me as 'you don't have the attention span for this book', which is true in 9 cases out of 10. However, what Janika Oza has done with this book is capture that 1/10. Her vivid prose and rich historical detail—following the life of not only Pirbhai, but generations of his family, too—bring to life the complexities of family dynamics and the juxtaposition of complicity and resistance in the face of oppression.
I found the varied historical backdrop to be particularly interesting, as none of the three major locales of the book were ones that I have much context for or connection to. I also found the resilience of later generations to inspire hope in a way that not many of my reads usually do (lit fic girlies, sound off). I think this book would be appreciated by fans of Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) or Pachinko (Min Jin Lee), arguably the two giants of the genre.
Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for the opportunity to read and review!
This is another multi-generational family saga. This time, about several generations (100 years) of an Indian family. The story may begin in India, but it mainly takes place in Uganda and then Toronto. I loved the way that the author reveals the motivations and characters of each family member as they struggle to survive individually but mostly as they fight to improve the lives of their family. The story begins with a young Indian boy who signs a paper he cannot read, accepting a job without knowing or worrying about the nature of the work because he is so desperate to earn money to help his family. Over time and generations in his new home country of Uganda, his family is able to “move up” in society and live happily and comfortably. Eventually, however, with the end of British rule, his family is exiled from the country and flees to Toronto. This is a story of perseverance, resilience, and hope in the face of unspeakable instability. To imagine having your family completely uprooted every couple of generations and the impact that could have on you emotionally, socially, and financially, is dizzying. The author had me very invested in each character’s well-being. Although she did an excellent job showcasing not only each character’s strengths but also their flaws, I found all of the characters truly likeable. Although the story begins with a male character I found the overall plot to focus more on the women of the family. It was the strength of the women that truly allowed the family to flourish.
This was an enjoyable read and like many multi-generational family sagas, I always want to know more. Perhaps it is just because in this genre the story seems never-ending as it does not end with the end of a main character, but continues with the next generation. I did find this ending to be uplifting and bring some things full circle but one outcome that I had hoped for in the ending did not occur. If you like multi-generational family sagas, definitely check this one out!
It's not that often that a modern saga is worth a reader's time. But History of Burning rewards through a tale of remarkable people doing remarkable things. The atmosphere created by language of the writing is almost palpable and the plot couldn't be more engaging.
A propulsive story that spans generations--- my favorite type of novel! Engaging and important this is one that will stick with. me for some time.
An epic, century long multi-generational family saga starting with Pirbhai,a young teenage boy, who is taken from India to Uganda to work on the East African Railway. And thus begins his journey and ours as readers as we think about themes of family, home, history and resilience. This is a remarkable debut and I kept saying out loud that THIS type of book is what I love about reading - not being able to put a book down and to just want to keep reading, no matter what time it is or what you have to do the next day. I think readers who enjoyed Homegoing, The Covenant of Water, Cutting for Stone, and The Poisonwood Bible would enjoy this as well. I already sent this to several friends to read. I did listen to this on audio for a bit but I preferred reading the words in print for this one more.
I think this was an excellent novel, but the wrong time for me. Perhaps it was also the wrong time for our store since it didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved.
It's hard to believe that A History of Burning is Janika Oza's debut novel. This work is a stirring family novel covering five continents and four generations. It's a story of the diaspora of an Indian family that intersects with themes of identity, inheritance, and trauma.
Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for sharing this book with me. All thoughts are my own.
The story begins at the turn of the twentieth century, when 13-year-old Pirbhai, the eldest son of a poor family, is conscripted British to work on the East African Railway in Kenya. Then one day, Pirbhai commits an act so heinous it will haunt him forever and reverberate across his family’s future for generations to come.
Pirbhai’s children are born and raised under the searing sun of Kampala during the waning days of British colonial rule. As Uganda moves towards independence and military dictatorship, Pirbhai’s granddaughters, Latika, Mayuri, and Kiya, are coming of age in a divided nation.
Then, in 1972, under Idi Amin’s brutal regime, all Asians are expelled, and the family has no choice but to flee. In the chaos, they leave something behind.
Janika Oza’s impressive debut takes readers on a journey spanning four continents and five generations of an Indian family as they’re forced to migrate again and again for political and economic reasons. As Pirbhai’s grandchildren, scattered across the world, find their way back to each other in exile in Toronto, a shocking letter arrives that causes each generation to question how far they will go, and who they will defy to secure their own place in the world.
A History of Burning is an unforgettable family saga of complicity and resistance, about the stories we share, the ones that remain unspoken, and the eternal search for home.
The chapters alternate between the perspectives of ten characters as they move around the world and struggle to maintain solidarity and cultural traditions. While the multiple viewpoints might be challenging for some readers, Oza's storytelling shines through in this sweeping historical novel. 5 stars.
Beautiful storytelling. Epic and diasporic. I recommend listening to this author's talks - just very engaging.
This was an excellent historical fiction novel about several generations of an East Indian family as they move from India to Eastern Africa to Canada. It took me a bit to get into the story, but once I was in, I was hooked. Told in a narrative style where different family members narrate the chapters, I loved following the story as it unfolded. Meticulously researched, we also learn history British colonialism in Uganda and the negative changes it inflicted on the Indian families when they pulled out. Heartbreaking and hopeful, this family who suffered and loved, and who wouldn't give up wasn't excellent read!
This is such an immersive but tough read. Oza is such a good writer that I was willing to go on the journey with this family, even though it made me extremely nervous. It will go on my must-read for 2023 shelf.
IN A WORD:
THE GOOD: Exotic locales and interesting cultural changes due to location and timeframe.
THE BAD: Often too much use of non-English words that context didn't explain.
An tale of one family's generational goal to improve their status.
From India to Uganda to Canada. Pushed from one new life to the next.
Told through the eyes of multiple characters - a child, a parent, a grandparent, sisters, and brothers.
Ultimately a tale of familial love and faithfulness.
This story was beautifully written and pulled me in from the first chapter. I truly couldn’t put it down. Although my emotions were all over the place, it’s a must read.
Janika Oza’s recently published novel, A History of Burning, is an epic spanning more than 100 years, several continents, and the history of one family’s determination not only to survive but also to thrive. It’s a gripping tale that begins in India with a poor family not even managing to scrape by and a young, uneducated, naive boy tricked into years of unrelenting servitude an ocean away in Mombasa, Africa. Upon eventually gaining his freedom, the boy finds his way to Kenya and into the lives of an Indian family who’d moved there to make a life better for themselves than they had in India. They owned a small store in which the boy worked and proved himself to be an honest, honorable person.
After marrying the family’s daughter, the boy, now a man, moves with her to Uganda to open another store for the family there, sending money back not only to her family in Kenya but also to his in India. They raise a family in Uganda until it undergoes the military coup led by Idi Amin. The family is fractured by the unrest and brutality of Amin’s regime, and members are forced to flee to whatever countries are willing to take them. Eventually, remaining family members find a life in Canada, but not without experiencing much heartache and loss.
Reading the book provided me an understanding of the East Asian diaspora that I previously wasn’t aware of and reminded me that racism and bigotry exists everywhere and throughout time. I felt keenly a part of the family’s lives through each generation, the writing vividly portraying each individual character and their hopes, dreams, difficulties and disappointments. It’s a wonderful book that I recommend reading to anyone with an interest in historical fiction.
Thank you to Ms. Oza, Grand Central Publishing, and NetGalley for providing me an advanced reader’s copy of the book. My opinion is given voluntarily.
This is the saga of a very resilient family. It begins in 1898, when a teenaged boy is tricked into leaving his home in India. He winds up working in Africa, where he establishes a new family. Between 1898 and 1992, the book covers British colonialism, the Partition, the Idi Amin dictatorship, racial cleansing, and anti-immigrant prejudice. The family ends up being spread over several continents.
The book jumps around among several family members. At times, I found the jumps a little jarring, particularly since the chapters usually skipped ahead a few years. The most vivid part of the book, and the part in which I was most engaged, was the period in Uganda. Overall, the book was very skillfully and cohesively written, especially considering that this is the author’s first novel.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Incredibly brutal and intense look at the multigenerational trauma and lives of immigrants .
My favorites reads of the year ! Thank you for the arc NetGalley !
Another beautifully crafted and well-written multi-generational tale of sadness, success, striving, and love. Covers a portion of history I think the average white American probably isn't super familiar with.
One of the best novels I’ve read all year, A History of Burning is a brutal, emotional look at the lives of four generations of an immigrant family.
While all of the characters are compelling, I especially felt for sisters Latika, Mayuri and Kiya, who experience the rise of Uganda’s military dictatorship as young women. The turmoil in their country changes the trajectory of their lives and those of their family members in utterly heartbreaking ways that moved me to tears at points.
When I first finished this novel, I admit I was a bit taken aback by one huge character arc I felt was unresolved - but the more I thought about the author’s choice, the more I appreciated it. Life itself often feels unresolved.
Moving and at times difficult to read but well worth it, I would recommend A History of Burning to any reader who enjoys literary historical fiction. Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC.