Dubai-based author Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar has made it to the Booker Shortlist announced on September 15. Not only is hers one of the four entries by debutant writers to have featured in the list, she is the only South Asian on the list this year.
The novel, which will go by its original title Girl in White Cotton in South Asia, discusses the resentment of the daughter for the mother character who never really looked after her and the difficulty of looking after a sick parent. It dissects a mother-daughter relationship – as the mother’s mind descends into a void when Alzheimer’s claims it, the daughter finds herself the lone custodian of the memories that defined their fractured relationship.
It was her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s and her personal struggle to come to terms with it that compelled Avni Doshi to put her protagonists through a similar journey.
The final and eighth draft of the novel was written in Dubai. The Indian-American author began the first draft in 2012 – when she was neither married nor living in the UAE – and was working as an art curator in India. Now, the 37-year-old novelist has two babies under the age of two; she had finished the novel shortly before she gave birth to her second child.
In an interview to Khaleej Times in May this year, Avni Doshi said: “I also realized the degree to which we can never know our parents, how they are ultimately mysterious to us. We see them as gods when we are young – very large, a little scary, the objects of our devotion – and then we grow up to often take them for granted. But we will never really know them, what they were as children, what they are passionate about. And they in turn only show us a certain side of themselves. I see that so clearly with my son – I’m a particular version of myself with him.”
Other nominees include Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Douglas Stuart, Maaza Mengiste and Brandon Taylor. Booker chair Margaret Busby said there was great diversity of themes in this year’s shortlist. The themes include memory loss, social landscape of Zimbabwe, climate change and women soldiers in Ethiopia. The winner will be announced on November 17.