A History of Burning


By Janika Oza

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This epic, sweeping historical novel full of "wondrous complexity” spans continents and a century, and reveals how one act of survival can reverberate through generations (Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin). ​

One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books

Longlisted for the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature in Adult Fiction for 2024

“Remarkable….a haunting, symphonic tale”— New York Times Book Review

In 1898, Pirbhai, a teenage boy looking for work, is taken from his village in India to labor for the British on the East African Railway. Far from home, Pirbhai commits a brutal act in the name of survival that will haunt him and his family for years to come.

So begins Janika Oza’s masterful, richly told epic, where the embers of this desperate act are fanned into flame over four generations, four continents, throughout the twentieth century. Pirbhai’s children are born in Uganda during the waning days of British colonial rule, and as the country moves toward independence, his granddaughters, three sisters, come of age in a divided nation. Latika is an aspiring journalist, who will put everything on the line for what she believes in; Mayuri’s ambitions will take her farther away from home than she ever imagined; and fearless Kiya will have to carry the weight of her family’s silence and secrets.

In 1972, the entire family is forced to flee under Idi Amin’s military dictatorship. Pirbhai’s grandchildren are now scattered across the world, struggling to find their way back to each other. One day a letter arrives with news that makes each generation question how far they are willing to go, and who they are willing to defy, to secure their own place in the world.

A History of Burning is an unforgettable tour de force, an intimate family saga of complicity and resistance, about the stories we share, the ones that remain unspoken, and the eternal search for home.

  • “Remarkable….a haunting, symphonic tale that speaks to the nuanced complexities of class and trauma for this particular family. This demand — and spirit — for bolder storytelling that transcends borders and identities certainly can be found in Oza’s generous novel.”
    New York TImes Book Review, Editors Choice
  • "[A] highly accomplished debut ... the novel blazes fiercely."
    The Economist
  • "Vast and intricate, alight with love and contained fury, A History of Burning is a towering debut by a phenomenal writer. A book I want to press into readers' hands and discuss for hours."
    Megha Majumdar, New York Times bestselling author of A Burning
  • “A riveting testament to home, exile, survival, and inheritance. Janika Oza is a writer you won’t want to miss.”
    Lisa Ko, National Book Award finalist for The Leavers
  • A History of Burning is that rare epic that manages to retain both its sweep and its intimacy. Janika Oza has written a generational saga vivid and alive with sensory and historical detail, an excavation of stories often left untold. This is a beautiful book, unflinching yet deeply engaged with that most human work, the work of forgiveness.”
    Omar El Akkad, author of American War
  • A History of Burning is as transfixing as a flame. Janike Oza writes strikingly and steadily, with exquisite, incisive detail, about making one's home in imperfect places. This is a book about what it means to be part of a family and lineage, in all its heartbreaking and wondrous complexity."
    Rachel Khong, award-winning author of Goodbye, Vitamin
  • "Intimate and epic… A hymn for the ancestors, and the bitter, radiant acts of their survival: this book is a triumph."
    Shruti Swamy, author of A House is a Body
  • “Oza’s writing reminds people that vulnerability and openness are the only ways we can save each other. A History of Burning is the art we need now.”
    Megan Giddings, author of Lakewood
  • “Ambitious in scope and dazzlingly executed... A tour de force.”
    Sharon Bala, author of The Boat People

On Sale
May 2, 2023
Page Count
400 pages

Janika Oza

About the Author

Janika Oza is the winner of the 2022 O. Henry Prize for Short Fiction, and the 2020 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Award. She has received support from The Millay Colony, Tin House Summer and Winter Workshops, VONA/Voices of Our Nation, and the One Story Summer Writers’ Conference, and her stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The Best Small Fictions 2019 AnthologyCatapultThe Adroit Journal, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She lives in Toronto.

Learn more about this author