Avni Doshi says she took seven years to write Booker-longlisted ‘Burnt Sugar’


“Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Avni Doshi tests the limits of what we can know for certain about those we are closest to, and by extension, about ourselves,” said the judges' panel on 'Burnt Sugar'. (Photo: Instagram)
“Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Avni Doshi tests the limits of what we can know for certain about those we are closest to, and by extension, about ourselves,” said the judges' panel on 'Burnt Sugar'. (Photo: Instagram)

INDIAN-AMERICAN author Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar has made it to the Booker Prize 2020 long-list, taking on Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & The Light and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body.

Published in India last year as Girl in White Cotton, the book explores a “complex and unusual” relationship between a daughter and mother, whose memory is on the wane.

“This is a love story and it is a story about betrayal. But not between lovers – between mother and daughter,” the Booker panel of judges noted on Tuesday (28). “Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Avni Doshi tests the limits of what we can know for certain about those we are closest to, and by extension, about ourselves.”

They added that it “examines a mother-daughter relationship with honest, unflinching realism — sometimes emotionally wrenching but also cathartic, written with poignancy and memorability”.

Currently based in Dubai, 38-year-old Doshi – who did her masters’ in History of Art from the University College London – said Burnt Sugar took seven years and eight drafts to be completed.

“The earlier drafts of the novel were inspired by my mother’s family, particularly their connection to the Osho Ashram in Pune, India,” she told Penguin.co.uk. “Later drafts of the book were more focused on the theme of memory, which I explored in depth through the lens of Alzheimer’s disease, which my grandmother has been diagnosed with.”

Notably, Doshi is among eight debutants and nine female authors vying for the prestigious £50,000 prize.

The others on the list are: Diane Cook (The New Wilderness), Gabriel Krauze (Who They Was), Colum McCann (Apeirogon), Maaza Mengiste (The Shadow King), Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age), Brandon Taylor (Real Life), Anne Tyler (Redhead by The Side of The Road), Douglas Stuart (Shuggie Bain), Sophie Ward (Love and Other Thought Experiments), C Pam Zhang (How Much of These Hills is Gold).

The five-judge panel picked through 162 novels either published or scheduled for release in the 12 months ending on September 30, pitting nine Americans or dual-US citizens against just three Britons and Zimbabwe’s Dangarembga.

“There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing,” judges’ panel chair Margaret Busby said.

“Unplanned, our final selection encompasses both seasoned favourites and debut talents — a truly satisfying outcome.”

She added that the longlist featured “novels carried by the sweep of history”.

The works, she said, “represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre- and post-dystopian society”.

Booker Prize Foundation’s literary director Gaby Wood said: “In this year of seismic change, visibility for new books published in the UK has been drastically low.

“So, however unintended the ratio, it’s especially heartening to know that some authors who have launched their careers in the midst of Covid-19 may now have a chance to reach the readers they deserve.”

The 13-title longlist will be whittled down to a shortlist of six on September 15, before the winner is unveiled in November.