Girls Burn Brighterby Shobha Rao Published 06 Mar 2018
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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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4.391 stars - - - published 03/06/18
this selection is cardiac conflagration; if these details do not alight yr inner self and its indignation for the unjust treatment of human beings then i wish you well when you resume with yr beach reads. the more i became enveloped into girls burn brighter's story the more i felt a hurt, a hurt whose kernal was this ignominious ember containing my ignorance, and to my disgust, most likely my indifference, indifference to my ken of those suffering who are not me. these two young ladies, hardly more than girls, even though their experiences should not be wished upon people twice their age, endured such levels of evil that discomfited me and would not let me look away because i know stories like these are real. trust me, i can't believe such evil exists as much as i know it does, and it took this book for me to reignite my fire to help do something about it.
the title is referring to one's fire, that which sets ablaze yr will to defy what seems to be natural when confronted with one horrific predicament after another, extinguishing one's self. we meet poornima and savitha midway through their teenage yrs in indravalli, karnataka, india. poverty, destitution in spades - getting to put banana in yr rice was really having something to be grateful for, appreciate from life, their lives predominantly consisting of spending endless hrs on charkhas (looms) spinning cotton into fabric for simple saris. poornima's non-loving father (her mother died from cancer) is trying to get her into an arranged marriage, savitha (no relation) operated poornima's family's second charkha to increase sari production, thus increasing monetary opportunity/dowry. things go from bad to much, much worse when a repugnant incident occurs creating savitha to disappear.
a quarter into the book we get third person perspective of both girls, though many consecutive chapters existed for each character before alternating. savitha ends up in the united states, though it is an immeasurable distance from land of the free, land of opportunity. poornima spends yrs trying to locate savitha, initially knowing nothing of her whereabouts. as i mentioned in an update, this book does not ease up on the sadness, the endless culmination of hopelessness while trying desperately to look for any sliver of hope: hope for living, this only being in reuniting with each other. the writing is limited, not in a minimalistic or sparse manner, in the sense these girls have, know so very little they do not even know there is something such as expansive, florid anything, let alone language. short of the three quarter mark we witness their fires growing stronger with what you might... i guess call a little bit of fortune (again, that still a huge stretch to say fortune), and then, bam, more awfulness on top of the exponential awfulness up to now! and then the last page worth of story had my heart immediate racing; my fears, my total investment in this tale swelled into an enormity of emotive uncertainty. i had to read it more than twice to grasp it, i was so afraid of it going in a certain direction i was in a combination of eyes glazing over with moisture and a feeling of dizziness, an archaic aspect of the vapours.
thanks to flatiron books and all involved in this goodreads giveaway.
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.
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.
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex
This book broke my heart into crumbs and I'm still sweeping pieces of it off the ground. Poornima and Savitha find ways to hold onto each other in a country that considers their existence a burden.They are both born poor and given few opportunities. In India a girls humanity is measured by her utility. Despite this Poornima and Savitha build their friendship on trust and awe. Their love for each other empowers them to keep going, even when they are physically distant and mentally fleeting. Passages of this book felt like kicks in the rib. But I read through all of the heartache eagerly because of the gorgeous writing unforgettable characters.
"But what about love?"
"What is love, Poori?" Savitha said. What is love if not a hunger?
Though the alternating perspectives both women gave me intimate access into their hearts, this kind of character development is magic. The women in this book experience every kind of cruel and harsh abuse. Their experiences aren't deserved but it's important that readers understand that this happens all the time. Through prisms of poverty I was led into desperate lives, that so many of us forget exist. This book challenges us to look at what women are able to endure and find the beauty in their journey.
"What it wanted was to reveal to me that there is no end to guilt, no end to the prices we pay, that we are the forest, and our conscience, our hell, is the forest floor."
I finished this book in emotional ruin. I learned about India, poverty and friendship in a way that will stay with me for a long time. Savitha and Poornima burn bright with the kind of love and hope that I want to carry in myself. This is a bleak book but the harshness allowed the reader to cut through any self delusion. The only reason this isn't a five star book for me is because everything wasn't quite pulled together in the end, the way I would have preferred. Nonetheless I am excited to read more from this author and be inspired by what other stories she has to share.
"What fools we all are. We girls. Afraid of the wrong things, at the wrong times."
Recommended for Readers:
-who want to be immersed in another culture
-enjoy empowering stories about women
-enjoy heart wrenching contemporaries
Thank you so much Flatiron Books for providing my free copy of GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER by Shobha Roa - all opinions are my own.
Let me start by saying that this book will not make you feel good. It is heartrending with horrific scenes that will make you cringe. BUT it’s not meant to make you feel good, instead it paints a picture of the author’s very unique perspective. And what I love about this book is the strength of the two strong female protagonists that were born into a society that sees them more like property than human beings. It’s not beautiful or easy; it’s painful, raw, oppressive, and hopeless. However, it’s brilliantly told, beautifully written and it cuts right to the core.
This is a story of two young girls, Poornima and Stavitha, living in an impoverished village in India. Stavitha is hired by Poornima’s father for work, which is how they first meet. They have an instant bond and friendship that helps them deal with the darkness they have to endure. One night, a very traumatic event happens to Stavitha which drives her away. This is where the book breaks off and is told in alternating perspectives, detailing the struggles of both very strong women who go through unimaginable things. This story and these names will forever be engraved in my mind, but I’m okay with that because it’s the very least I can do.
GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER has vivid descriptions with great character development, and it reads at a quick pace. Of course I was repulsed and outraged by the deplorable, appalling acts of violence, however I value the author’s transparency about the girls’ journey. Rao does an exquisite job bringing said issues to the forefront and creates much needed, thought-provoking discussion. Even though the story is overwhelming and difficult to read, I was able to appreciate learning about the ordeal the girls experienced and their culture. Although the ending left me with more questions than answers, I feel it’s appropriate because it leaves me with hope. At least, that’s what I choose to believe.
My rating is 4.5 / 5 stars!