A cold and dark narrative, Burnt Sugar is about an aging mother, Tara, who is forgetting. It is told from the perspective of her daughter, Antara, who desperately needs her mother to remember how she neglected her as a child.
The novel unfolds as Antara speaks her thoughts on the page, relating details of her childhood and the relevant details of her mother’s life, as her mother forgets them. That these two are mirrors of each other is obvious with their names, but it isn’t until Antara has a daughter of her own that the similarities between them are carefully and almost surgically drawn in unsettlingly mirrored ways.
I’m not as crazy about Burnt Sugar as I am about Reid and Zhang, but it is undoubtedly another strong debut. In a swirl of vivid imagery — not the least are the olfactory ones that do so much heavy lifting in terms of portraying corporeality — it probes questions about maternal and filial love, invoking in the process a sense of impending doom that is cyclical and generational.