Megha Majumdar’s debut novel begins with a young, poor Muslim woman named Jivan mindlessly writing a post on Facebook in response to a terrorist attack that she witnessed near her home in India. “If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?” Immediately, the book accelerates into a brisk thriller. Police take Jivan into custody, accusing her of aiding the attackers. The story jumps among three perspectives: that of Jivan, sitting in jail; her former physical education teacher, who finds new power in the right-wing movement; and a hijra (a third gender recognized in India) named Lovely who aspires to be an actor and is Jivan’s alibi. Majumdar has a particular talent for character development—each of the three narrators’ hopes and dreams are vital and tangible. The story bills itself as a thriller, but it’s the careful building of each character’s urgent desires that propel the novel to its surprising conclusion.
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