Title: Bone & Bread
Author: Saleema Nawaz
Publication Year: 2013
Source: E-book version purchased from Kobo Books
From the cover:
Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods — and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal’s Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance. Yet as they grow towards adulthood, their paths begin to diverge. Beena catches the attention of one of the “bagel boys” and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia.
When we first meet the adult Beena, she is grappling with a fresh grief: Sadhana has died suddenly and strangely, her body lying undiscovered for a week before anyone realizes what has happened. Beena is left with a burden of guilt and an unsettled feeling about the circumstances of her sister’s death, which she sets about to uncover. Her search stirs memories and opens wounds, threatening to undo the safe, orderly existence she has painstakingly created for herself and her son.
I’m going to start by saying: this was a difficult book to read.
For starters, I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Beena and her sister Sadhana both came across as annoying and spiteful in Beena’s memories of their childhood, and their uncle wasn’t any better. And the way that Beena thinks about herself and her sister in the “present” (or, well, recent past, in Sadhana’s case) isn’t much better. I wanted to know how Sadhana had died, just as Beena did, but I didn’t particularly care for either of their happiness, either. They just weren’t sympathetic characters.
They were, however, realistic characters. I could totally believe everything that happened to them, everything they said to each other, the alternating hatred and love that they had for each other. The conflict between the two of them was real. The struggles that they both faced, together and individually, leapt off the page. Importantly, the difficulties in their lives weren’t all chalked up to being minorities in Canada – a theme that is all too prevalent in modern Canadian literature. Rather, their bi-cultural identities were explored and used to give detail and nuance to their lives, but didn’t ever take over completely.
I enjoyed reading Bone & Bread even though it was, overall, a sad and very serious novel. It was intense and made me think, but that wasn’t a bad thing.