Home >Lounge >Features >Booker Prize 2020: Indian-origin writer Avni Doshi in the shortlist of six
Writer Avni Doshi. Photo: Sharon Haridas.
Writer Avni Doshi. Photo: Sharon Haridas.

Booker Prize 2020: Indian-origin writer Avni Doshi in the shortlist of six

'Burnt Sugar', Doshi's debut novel, was first published in India in 2019 as 'Girl In White Cotton'

Indian-origin writer Avni Doshi has been shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize for her debut novel Burnt Sugar, first published in India as Girl In White Cotton last year. With this honour, Doshi joins an august list of Indian-origin writers such as Neel Mukherjee, Jeet Thayil and Anita Desai.

Doshi is among five others—Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor—shortlisted for the £50,000 prize. Among the notable omissions from the longlist is two-time winner Hilary Mantel, who was nominated for the third part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror And The Light.

Doshi's novel, written over 8 years and as many drafts, is a powerful account of a mother-daughter relationship. In an interview with Mint, she described the story as having a "polarizing" effect on readers. "What some found unflinching, others found repugnant," she said on being chosen for the longlist. "Some people (some friends) were triggered by the book because it reminded them of something close to home."

The plot revolves around the protagonist Antara and her fractious relationship with her mother Tara, who was never a conventional parent. Having walked out of her marriage to join a spiritual clan when she was young, Tara was forced to live in penury with Antara. But not only did she defy every expectation of being a mother and wife, she also did so with scant regard for society's opinion.

Frighteningly cruel but also unexpectedly tender, Tara's volatile bond with her adult daughter begins to disintegrate as she is suspected of suffering from early onset of Alzheimer's disease. Doshi delves into their troubled filial ties with a surgical precision, her prose stinging while also being emotionally daring. The Guardian praised it as "an unsettling, sinewy debut, startling in its venom and disarming in its humour."

In a press statement, Margaret Busby, who presided over the panel of jury, spoke of the diversity of the shortlisted novels, both for their themes and styles.

“The novels...range in setting from an unusual child growing up in working-class Glasgow in the 1980s, to a woman coping with a post-colonial nightmare in Zimbabwe," she said. "Along the way we meet a man struggling with racism on a university campus, join a trek in the wilderness after an environmental disaster, eavesdrop on a woman coping with her ageing mother as they travel across India and in an exploration of female power, and discover how ordinary people rose up in 1930s Ethiopia to defend their country against invading Italians"

The winner will be announced on 11 November.

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