avni doshi

Author Avni Doshi, author of “Burnt Sugar.” (Sharon Haridas photo via IANS)

LONDON – Indian American author Avni Doshi has made the cut for the 2020 Man Booker Prize for Literature with her book "Burnt Sugar" (Hamish Penguin Random House) in the shortlist announced here Sept. 16.

The five other books in the shortlist are: The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Oneworld Publications), This Mournable Body by Taitsi Dangarembga (Faber & Faber), The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Canongate Books), Shuggie Bain By Douglas Stuart (Pan Macmillan) and Real Life By Brandon Taylor (Daunt Books Publishing).

The list was chosen from a bakers dozen 13 longlist. The winner will be announced in early November.

Vishnu Makhijani adds from New Delhi in an interview with Doshi: It’s been a "long and difficult" journey spread over seven years and eight drafts, says Doshi, whose novel "Burnt Sugar,” about a torturous mother-daughter relationship, has been shortlisted for the 50,000 pounds Booker Prize 2020, admitting she was moved to "tears" when receiving the news and has thanked the jury for "deeply" engaging with her work.

"The journey has been long and difficult to say the least," Doshi, who lives with her family in Dubai, told IANS in an email interview. It goes back to 2013 when she won the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize at the 2013 Kolkata Literary Festival for new unrecognized talent with an unpublished manuscript. She started working with a literary agent but realized that the book "was in no way ready to see the light of day" and began "revising it, playing with the perspective, the form and the tone.”

"I was lucky enough to do a writing fellowship at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and it was there that I sat in on my first craft classes. Workshopping sections of my book, I began to really take it apart, to see where the holes were," she said.

Describing this as "deeply humbling" she said she "learned that writing is all about editing and rewriting, that you can always get closer to what you are trying to say. I kept working on the book, sometimes losing hope.”

Doshi parted ways with her literary agent around the time she moved to Dubai with her family, "which was very difficult. I was in a new city and felt completely alone in terms of my work. In the end, it took eight drafts and seven years to get the book to where it is today.”

Once the book was ready, she again sent it to literary agents "and got a number of rejections" before she had any success. The book was published in India last year as "Girl in White Cotton.” It's being published in the UK now and the U.S. next year as "Burnt Sugar.”

Little wonder then that Booker jury chair Margaret Busby described the book as an "utterly compelling read (that) examines a complex and unusual mother-daughter relationship with honest, unflinching realism – sometimes emotionally wrenching but also cathartic, written with poignancy and memorability.”

What's Doshi's take on this?

"It's very gratifying when anyone engages deeply with your work and has an emotional reaction," she said.

"Burnt Sugar/Girl in Cotton" (HarperCollins) traces the journey of the protagonist, Antara, who has never understood her mother Tara's decisions – walking out on her marriage to follow a guru, living on the streets like a beggar, shacking up with an unknown artist and rebelling against society's expectations. But when Tara starts losing her memory, Antara searches for a way to make peace with their shared past, a past that haunts them both.

As she relives her childhood in Pune in the eighties, Catholic boarding school in the hills of Maharashtra, and her years as a young artist in Bombay, Antara comes up against her own fears and neuroses, realizing she might not be so different from Tara after all.

Why Pune? Doshi was born in New Jersey after her parents migrated to the U.S. but she maintained her cultural links with regular visits to India. Her mother's family was settled in Pune and a lot of women in the family were connected with the Rajnesh Ashram in the city.

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