A young Muslim woman in Kolkata is accused of a terrorist outrage, in a thriller about poverty and social aspiration that is also a moral drama Megha Majumdar’s excellent debut novel begins with a pile-on, the kind of digital public shaming Jon Ronson has written about. A young Muslim woman named Jivan reads on her phone about a terrorist attack at a railway station near the slum in Kolkata where she lives. More than a hundred people were killed in the blaze. She posts a question – simple, pointed, instinctive: “If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean the government is also a terrorist?” Her question spreads across social media like forest fire. Monstrous accusations are hurled at her. She is alleged to have been spotted at the station carrying a bulky package and, worse, chatting online with someone the local police declare is a known terrorist recruiter. Charged with the heinous crime, she’s sent to jail to await trial.
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