book review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Harry N. Abrams, 2021

I admired but didn’t particularly like this book. I’ve talked before about how I don’t really get on with books about motherhood, and sometimes the reverse is true too, I don’t always love books about daughterhood, especially when it’s the book’s main focus. (Something like Transcendent Kingdom is the exception, where the mother/daughter relationship is one thread among many.)

I was finding something salvageable in the first half of Burnt Sugar, but the second half just lost me. While I tend to enjoy ‘unlikable’ protagonists, Antara was often too much for me–I found her to be deliberately belligerent toward the reader in a way that I didn’t think was particularly interesting or well-executed. I think this book does have a lot going for it in terms of its chilly depiction of a strained mother/daughter relationship, but Antara herself staunchly refused to do any of the heavy lifting to earn my investment. I just didn’t find her believable or her actions comprehensible; this book is written in the first person and still I struggled to discern some of Antara’s motivations (this isn’t helped by the book’s awkward structure, flitting between the past and the present in a way that was occasionally challenging to follow and which I didn’t think ultimately did it any favors). 

Avni Doshi’s prose also failed to impress me, but, like most of my criticisms here, I feel that might just be a matter of personal taste. I do see why this book has been so critically well-received, it just really wasn’t for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Abrams for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

16 thoughts on “book review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

    • Honestly the motherhood aspect was the one thing that I thought might work in its favor for you, but if you’re not in the mood for that at the minute then yes, definitely pass, I don’t think you’d like a single other thing about this.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great review! I’m a bit torn over whether to read this one – perhaps if it makes it to the shortlist, but as of now none of the reviews I read managed to convince. This just sounds… a bit like a chore? But I’m always curious when many people say it’s a matter of personal taste – so now I’m curious. RACHEL HELP

    Liked by 1 person

    • IT WAS SUCH A CHORE. Which a ~200 page book really, really should not be. Maybe read the first few pages and see if you get on with it?! I could tell almost immediately that it wasn’t going to work for me. (In case you’d need to buy it to do that, in which case, SKIP!)


    • Yeah that’s a theme that doesn’t appeal to me on the best of days, but especially if you just read a similar book, you’re not missing much! I’ve seen a couple of other negative/lukewarm reviews but yeah, it’s been very beloved in the circles I follow. I sort of get it but not quite…


  2. Ah, I feel so much better about not liking this one as much as others seem to! I don’t mind it’s placing with the Booker or the Women’s Prize at all, but like you didn’t particularly enjoy the read. I’d agree that I also found it admirable in theory but rough and maybe even antagonizing in execution.


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