Winner of the Quebec Writers' Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction
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.
Saleema Nawaz's characters compel us, intrigue us, and delight us with their raw, complicated humanity, and her sentences sing in the gorgeous cadences of a writer who chooses every word with the utmost care. Heralded across Canada for the power and promise of her debut collection, Mother Superior, Nawaz proves with Bone and Bread that she is one of our most talented and unique storytellers.
About the author
Saleema Nawaz has published fiction in journals including Prairie Fire, Grain, The New Quarterly, and Prism International and she is an alumnus of the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts. ”The White Dress,“ the final novella in this book, won the inaugural Robert Kroetsch Award for Best Creative Thesis at the University of Manitoba; another of the stories, ”My Three Girls,“ appeared in the 2008 McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize Anthology.
- Winner, Quebec Writers' Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction
Bone & Bread engages. Nawaz... is successful at building nuanced characters and reflecting the uneasy and untidy nature of family relationships.
Winnipeg Free Press
Saleema Nawaz returns with a big and beautiful novel... a first novel that rewards the reader's emotional involvement with a quietly tragic examination of the numerous solitudes in the life of one family.
Quill & Quire
…emotionally complex and nuanced…
Alberta Daily Herald Tribune
Nawaz draws the core relationships with immaculately rendered delicacy; she gives the narrative time and space to unfold and evolve in a way that carries uncanny emotional punch.
Nawaz invites her reader into an intimate and devastating history, and holds you right until the end.
Bone and Bread... is an emotionally complex, riveting story. [It] is a poignant read, but it captivates because it brims with humanity. Nawaz hustles the reader along with vivid writing, scintillating characters, and the alluring element of mystery.
With an elegance and fluidity of prose rare in first novels, Canadian writer Nawaz presents a masterful examination of the ties that bind people together and the quiet endurance required for sustaining those bonds through the countless travails of life and death.
Bone and Bread is ambitious... Nawaz successfully portrays a strong yet tumultuous bond between the two sisters.
Globe and Mail
Saleema Nawaz’s debut novel Bone and Bread sets poetic prose against the complex mythology of a small family... Nawaz’s wellcrafted narrative and vivid descriptions immerse the reader in Beena and Sadhana’s world.
Multilayered debut novelSisters and secrets. Those two elements might be all the temptation you need to pick up Bone and Bread.
Beena and Sadhana were raised in a small apartment above their father's bagel shop in Montreal. When they are orphaned as teenagers, their dour Sikh uncle takes charge.
The narrative moves back and forth in time, revealing a unique family and a strong sisterhood bond. I found Nawaz's portrayal of attitudes towards immigration and a plural society in contemporary Quebec particularly compelling.
A Remarkable ReadRemarkable. In the currents of Canadian literature, there are few writers who can meld the longing of the human soul with a story so believable and engaging as Saleema Nawaz has in her debut novel Bone and Bread. Her superb writing lures you first with grief and absence and then seduces you by painting the mundane on a canvas of life’s small absurdities.
Beena and Sadhana Singh are unlikely heroines. Their parents, a free-thinking Sikh pastry cook turned Jewish bagel shop owner and an Irish mother who teaches yoga and dabbles in Eastern astrology, induct their children into a world of non-conventionalism, self-dependence and resilience. Two years apart in age, the two girls are inseparable. The death first of their father and then of their mother leave the sisters adrift in a world where their only relative is “Uncle,” their father’s younger tradition-bound brother. The lifelong bachelor is incapable of understanding the emotional needs of his nieces, and tries unsuccessfully to inculcate them with old world values and teach them how to be “good girls.” At sixteen, Beena throws herself into her first love, with eighteen-year-old Ravi Pattel, a ‘bagel boy’ in the family business in Montreal’s multi-cultural neighbourhood of Mile End. When Beena becomes pregnant, Ravi slips away, abetted by his upper class Hindu parents. Even Uncle’s attempt to bribe Ravi’s family with a sizable dowry fails to rescue Beena from single-motherhood. While Beena drops out of school and prepares herself for the challenges of being a teenaged parent, Sadhana, unable to overcome the loss of her mother, descends into life-threatening anorexia.
Ironically, both sisters find themselves in the same hospital the day that Beena’s son, Quinn, is born. His existence fills a void in the two sisters’ lives and restores their bond to each other. Sadhana excels on Montreal’s vibrant theatre and art scene, attracts to her numerous lovers and falls and recovers from serious bouts of anorexia. Beena plods along, raises her son, moves to Ottawa to find work as a free-lance editor, and her love life is occasionally punctuated by suitors who invariably fade away, leaving behind only disappointment. The love of the two sisters for Quinn is the glue that holds them together until Sadhana’s death under unexplained circumstances. Haunted by the thought that she may have contributed to her sister’s death, Beena returns to Montreal to piece together the last secretive weeks of Sadhana’s life. Quinn, now 18, accompanies his mother to Montreal, but on a quest of his own—one that will revive painful memories.
Saleema Nawaz's Bone and Bread won on November 19, 2013 the prestigious Paragraphe – Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. She will read on December 8, 2013 at the Magical Evening with Canadian Authors in Montreal (Restaurant Souvenirs d’Indochine, 243 Avenue du Mont-Royal Ouest – 7 pm).
This review was also published in the Capital Literary Review in Ottawa.
Bone & BreadWhat a beautiful read! Montreal, sisters, grief, loss, misunderstandings... and yet redemption of sorts, through tenacity in holding on to fraying relationships.
The writing is really stunning in this one, turns of phrase sticking in my head long after reading. The evocation of place is also amazing -- Montreal shines, and the small rooms that these sisters live in take on physical shape. The settings, the characters, and the writing are all powerful and appealing -- I've been recommending this one to everybody I know lately, and I recommend it here as well!