Dubai author Avni Doshi on her Booker Prize longlist nomination: 'It's absolutely surreal'

Her novel 'Burnt Sugar' explores the fraught relationship between a woman who suffers from memory loss and her daughter

'Burnt Sugar' is Avni Doshi's first published novel. Supplied
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Avni Doshi's novel Burnt Sugar has landed the Dubai author on the longlist for this year's Booker Prize, one of literature's most prestigious awards.

The Indian-American is believed to be the first author residing in the UAE to be nominated for the prize.

Speaking to The National shortly after the longlist was announced, Doshi says it was her editor who first informed her of the nomination, before it was announced to the public.

"It was absolutely surreal to hear the words. I started crying and then spent the rest of the day in a daze," she says.

Doshi is one of eight debut novelists to be longlisted for the prize. Her novel, which took seven years to get published, explores the fraught relationship between a woman who suffers from memory loss and her daughter. It was originally published in India last year under the title Girl in White Cotton. The book was released in the UK this month under the name Burnt Sugar.

How does Doshi feel representing so many different countries on the international stage?

"Dubai is my home now, and it’s where I am raising my family, but the US will always have a strong claim on me since it is where I was raised and educated, and India is the place that inspired the novel," she says.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi published by Hamish Hamilton. Courtesy Penguin UK

"I’m not representing any country in the competition – I feel I am representing myself."

She admits that although she "still can't believe it", the feedback about the news had been "very kind and supportive".

"My family is very excited. I think we will have an intimate, Covid-appropriate celebration at home tonight."

Earlier this month, Doshi told The National about the painstaking process of getting Burnt Sugar published.

“Getting the book out into the world ended up being a longer and more complicated process than I imagined,” she said. “The journey has been long and difficult to say the least.”

During the interview, the author stressed that Burnt Sugar isn't autobiographical. Neither of the two characters are anything like her or her mother, she said. The novel is rather a more general comment on familial relationships as a whole.

“I suppose all mother-daughter stories are love stories in a sense," she said. "We mirror our mothers, rebel against them, emulate them while trying to unconsciously destroy them. I’m really inspired by psychoanalysis and the way the mother complex is constellated in all of us to some degree – it’s an integral part of our histories, both personal and collective.”

Doshi also said she "would love to see some home-grown small press publishers come up in Dubai, or even for there to be the presence of literary agents to represent the variety of voices here".

"There’s a lot of scope for grassroots efforts and I think publishers around the world would be interested," she added.

Doshi was born and raised in New Jersey, in the US, after her parents emigrated from India. In 2014, she met her future husband in the US and moved to Dubai.

The Booker longlist: nine women, four men 

A dozen other novels are also in the running for the coveted literary prize, including works by Hilary Mantel, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Kiley Reid. The longlist includes nine women and four men.

The shortlist, comprised of six books, will be announced on Tuesday, September 15, and then the winner of the Booker Prize will be awarded in November.

“Each of these books carries an impact that has earned it a place on the longlist, deserving of wide readership,” Margaret Busby, chairwoman of the 2020 jury, said in a statement.

“Included are novels carried by the sweep of history with memorable characters brought to life and given visibility, novels that represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre- and post-dystopian society," she added.

“Some of the books focus on interpersonal relationships that are complex, nuanced, emotionally charged. There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing."

2020 Booker Prize Longlist in full

Diane Cook – The New Wilderness

Tsitsi Dangarembga – This Mournable Body

Avni Doshi – Burnt Sugar

Gabriel Krauze – Who They Was

Hilary Mantel – The Mirror and the Light

Colum McCann – Apeirogon

Maaza Mengiste – The Shadow King

Kiley Reid – Such a Fun Age

Brandon Taylor – Real Life

Anne Tyler – Redhead by the Side of the Road

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

Sophie Ward – Love and Other Thought Experiments

C Pam Zhang – How Much of These Hills is Gold