Burnt Sugar: Avni Doshi offers a stark new portrait of motherhood

What happens when mother and daughter must reckon with a traumatic past? Burnt Sugar plays with love, betrayal and inheritance to devastating effect.

The Sirens of Mars Sarah Stewart Johnson
Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

Bad mothers have made good stories forever. From the wicked stepmothers of fairytales and the negligent or pushy mums of Roald Dahl’s creations, to those whose parenting have scarred the pages of autofiction such as Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and Push. An intriguing literary side note is how many authors grew up under strange mothering – among them Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson.

And yet tales of motherhood still seem somehow scant across the shelves. For something so remarkable, an everyday occurrence of such miraculous proportions, an event so deeply, inherently transformative, it feels like there should be more stories.

Avni Doshi has said that she became “obsessed” with existent writing about motherhood: that of Sheila Heti, Rachel Cusk, and Deborah Levy. But Burnt Sugar easily sits alongside their books. The Indian author’s debut novel is described as a “love story and a story about betrayal. But not between lovers – between mother and daughter”. Baby girls are born carrying eggs, Russian Doll-like. And Burnt Sugar intrinsically makes motherhood a mutual thing: not just one woman creating another, but two – mother, and daughter – fighting against and for the roles they expected to have.  

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