Girls Burn Brighterby Published 06 Mar 2018
|Girls Burn Brighter.pdf|
A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, about a once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two girls who are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again.
When Poornima first meets Savitha, she feels something she thought she lost for good when her mother died: hope. Poornima's father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, and the two girls are quickly drawn to one another. Savitha is even more impoverished than Poornima, but she is full of passion and energy. She shows Poornima how to find beauty in a bolt of indigo cloth, a bowl of yogurt rice and bananas, the warmth of friendship. Suddenly their Indian village doesn't feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to lock down for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend again. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India's underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face relentless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within them.
In breathtaking prose, Shobha Rao tackles the most urgent issues facing women today: domestic abuse, human trafficking, immigration, and feminism. At once a propulsive page-turner and a heart-wrenching meditation on friendship, Rao's debut novel is a literary tour de force.
"Girls Burn Brighter" Reviews
“What is love if not a hunger?”
Finishing this book was so bittersweet. I both love and hate the ending.
Girls Burn Brighter is a book about two young lives - that of Poornima and Savitha - and it takes us through a lot of tragic events. That being said, I didn't find it emotionally-manipulative. The author's storytelling is definitely evocative, but it is straightforward enough that the horrific events don't feel gratuitous, and the two women at the centre of the story are what burn brightest, not the things that happen to them.
Poornima and Savitha grow up in the poor weaver village of Indravalli, India. Friendship grows between the two girls as they bond over sari looms and yogurt rice mixed with bananas. Rao captures this simple, beautiful friendship between two poor girls so well; it is hard to imagine them apart. But then a horrible crime does tear them apart. Savitha disappears from the village and Poornima is destined to spend many years searching for her friend.
Through heartbreak and illness, across years and continents, she never gives up.
A lot happens throughout this novel. The young women are forced into arranged marriages and prostitution. Many men try to use them for their own gain and many also succeed. But behind all this is the tale of female friendship and it's enduring power. Behind everything else, the plot is driven by one young woman's desperate need to find her friend. I needed to know what happened. I needed Poornima to find Savitha.
I won't give away any spoilers, but I will say that the ending is almost disappointing. I think, for some, it will be. And yet, it also seems perfect. I finished the last page unsure whether to smile or cry (I did a bit of both).
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I really thought I was going to love Girls Burn Brighter. The novel starts out with a short prologue about an old woman being interviewed by a journalist about her garden of trees. In only two pages, it was lovely, touching, and hard-hitting, everything that I hoped the rest of the book was going to be.
The story then begins with two girls, Poornima and Savitha, who become fast friends in their adolescence, who work together for Poornima's father, weaving saris. Tragic circumstances soon pull them apart, and they spend the rest of the book searching for one another.
This book is brutal. That in itself is not something that turns me off. I mean, you know me - the darker the better is pretty much my unofficial motto. What began to grate on me was how gratuitous and pointless so much of this brutality was. Shobha Rao makes her point early on. Girls - particularly in India - are given an absolutely terrible lot in life. This book is a celebration of that female-specific resilience, and that's what attracted me to this book to begin with. But there is just no end to the suffering Poornima and Savitha go through, for absolutely no narrative reason. It's hard to talk about this without giving specific examples, but basically, it started to feel like torture porn after a while.
Keep in mind that one of my favorite books of all time is A Little Life - if you look at the negative reviews of that, of which there are many, 'torture porn' is a phrase that you will see crop up quite a bit. But I absolutely object to that, because not only does the heightened pathos of that narrative fit the quasi-surrealist tone of the novel, but Hanya Yanagihara has something to say about the extreme suffering and trauma that those characters go through. In contrast, I wouldn't say that Shobha Rao has nothing to say - just that she says it, very early on, and then doesn't add anything else. This isn't helped by the fact that the book also begins to take on a very monotonous, telling-instead-of-showing tone. "This happened to Savitha. Then this happened. Then Savitha did this. Then she went here. Then she went there. Then this happened." That was pretty much the entire second half of this book. It's just like, at a certain point, we get it.
This review is turning out a lot more negative than I had intended. I was actually planning on giving this three stars at first. It's readable, educational about Indian culture, and I genuinely cared about Poornima and Savitha. But the amount of suffering these characters went through was so excessive it eventually deadened my emotional reaction, which was obviously the opposite effect from what the author had intended. I think this book has important things to say - I just wish it had undergone more rigorous editing, and adhered to the tried and true adage less is more.
Thank you to Flatiron Books and Shobha Rao for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
Poor and poorer....
Poornima - named after the moon -
Savitha - named after the sun -
are two of the most resilient - brave - and beautiful young girls - you’ll meet in any novel you’ll read. These girls meet in the village where they were born: in India.
We learn about their families - and their families expectations of them.
None of the parents talked shared about the ‘heartbeat-of-life’: the incredible richness - joys - intimacy - and deep satisfaction that friendship is to their souls. THAT.....the girls discovered on their own - with each other. And ‘this’ is what gives them strength among horrific adversities. And ....in my opinion ‘their’ friendship isn’t completely pure- yet serves a vital purpose: their connection was rooted in desperation......which I don’t fault.
When people say ....”this is not light reading”.... all they have to do is point to this book! There is no comic-relief! Our heart becomes dark fast.
Each of the two protagonists - Poornima and Savitha encounter abominable hardship, pain, suffering, and injustice. Each endure devastating physical and psychological trauma. I don’t even want to compare which girls story was worse. I could - but that would make me rather ugly! SUFFERING & PAIN .....is SUFFERING & PAIN!
The brutality of childhood like these girls experienced - is unimaginable- difficult to read - overwhelmingly tragic. It’s a book that would benefit being read with a group - examine & discuss.
Centuries of female oppression - human trafficking- forced marriages - rape - slavery - degradation - abuse - sexism....still goes on - to some degree today. It’s sure amazing to witness the relentless torture & how these young women hold onto their inner dignity and spirit.
The author Shobha Rao wrote a powerful debut. I was so invested in the characters - but then started to worry about the ending. I ‘did’ have mixed feelings about the ending.....
however this book opens your eyes wide - and keeps them open through pages and pages of hot burning fires of heaviness.
What. A. Novel! I did not want to put this book down but nor did I want it to end. I downloaded another book to read with this, to make it last longer, and yet I couldn't read the other. I HAD to keep reading Girls Burn Brighter.
It is the story of two young women from a small village in India. Savitha is from an extremely poor family and comes to work for Poornima's father. The two develop a deep and stirring friendship. When Savitha is raped, she runs off rather than be forced to marry her rapist. Poornima is heart-broken and enters into a loveless and abusive marriage. Both women suffer unspeakable pain but through it all, their memories of each other sustain them.
Poornima eventually goes in search of Savitha, entering into the sordid underworld of prostitution and human trafficking. This book is heart-wrenching, the women suffering and enduring such horrific crimes against them. And yet it is so beautifully written, so powerful. The friendship and love between Savitha and Poornima burns bright, guiding them through their darkest times, giving them the strength and courage to go on.
Shobha Rao is simply brilliant. If she writes another book as good as this one, she will join the list of my favourite authors. This is a story that will no doubt stay with me for a long time and I highly recommend this book.
You can also read my reviews on WP: https://anisabookreviews.wordpress.co...
Girls Burn Brighter is a compelling tale of love, friendship, and self-exploration. But mostly survival. It is the heart-wrenching story of being a girl in India and the possibilities beyond a fate.
Her name, Poornima is a constant reminder of what she is not. She is not a source of income, an economic burden to her family. She is not a boy. At sixteen, with the loss of her mother, Poornima is relegated to domestic servitude to care about her four other siblings and father. She is destined to be married off at sixteen. But she yearns always to find a more significant meaning of life, beyond her gender. That is when she meets her. "She'd never known a hand could do that; contain so much purpose."
Savitha, named after the eclipse carries a persistent fierce light in her spirit. The lack of food in the pots has forced this teenager to find work for her family. He father is a drunk and begs at the temple for food and money. Savitha has sat at a loom before; she knows how to weave threads, and this is where the start of a bright friendship begins.
Poornima and her father have two looms, a place where saris and income for family life take place. Since her mother's death, the loom sits bare, until one-day Savitha appears. There is something different about Savitha. Is it her conviction? Or her purpose?
Two more different teenagers will forge an unbreakable bond, even when life casts them unthinkable sorrow.
The setting is Indravalli, near Andhra Pradesh in India. Rao takes us on a journey of lush mountains graced with sacred temples. An experience rich in Hindu traditions such as burning lights on holy mountains, ceremonial garlands of marigolds, and sagely sadhus performing pujas. As these images are stunning, there is another side to India that is less romantic. Poverty, huts clung together by cow dung, landscaped by old scraps of food, hands tiring from begging, caste systems, and dark history of exploitation. Such poverty lines the vibrant greens of rice fields and mountains.
Beautifully written novel. Analogies are eloquently described providing rich prose. Poornima and Savith are skillfully developed characters with their personalities unfolding with grace. Poornima's mother, a recent memory is so vividly, and you can feel her presence, her love, her embrace. And you can see also taste the pain and humiliation that only comes by being born female in a country that discards women with a simple push.
Girls Burn Brighter book is my first reading experience with the author Shobha Rao. My travels to South India has undoubtedly played a role in my enjoyment of the story and setting, but it is not essential. I am excited to discover more of Rao's writing.
Thank you, Flatiron Books for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.