Winner of the 2020 International Book Award for Multicultural Fiction; Winner of the 2020 Ippy Gold Medal for Multicultural Fiction.
It is 1970. The evergreens are thick with snow despite it being the month of April. In an Ottawa hospital, another daughter is born to the Azar family. The parents are from Kfarmichki, a village in Lebanon but their daughters were born in Canada. Four daughters, to be precise. No sons. Youssef is the domineering father. Samira is the quiescent mother. Rima, Katrina and Mona are the traditional daughters. Then there is Adele, the newest member. "You should've been born a boy," Samira whispers to Adele shortly after her entrance into the world. As she grows, Adele learns there are certain rules Lebanese girls must follow in order to be good daughters. First off, they must learn to cook, master housework, learn Arabic and follow the traditions of their culture. Above all, they must save themselves for marriage. But Adele dreams of being an artist. When she is accepted to the University of Toronto, this is her chance to have a life outside the confines of her strict upbringing. But can she defy her father?
When Youssef surprises her with a family trip to her ancestral home, Adele is excited about the journey. In Lebanon, she meets Elias. He is handsome and intelligent and Adele develops feelings for him until Elias confides to her that her unexpected meeting with him was actually a well-devised plan that is both deceitful and shocking.Will this unravel the binding threads of this close-knit Lebanese family? Crisscrossing between Ottawa, Toronto and Lebanon, The Allspice Bath is a bold story about the cultural gap and the immigrant experience.
About the author
Sonia Saikaley was born and raised in Ottawa to a big Lebanese family. The daughter of a shopkeeper, she had access to all the treats she wanted. Her first book, The Lebanese Dishwasher, co-won the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. She has two poetry collections: Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter and A Samurai's Pink House. Her novel The Allspice Bath was awarded the 2020 IPPY Gold Medal for Multicultural Fiction. She is a graduate of the University of Ottawa and the Humber School for Writers. Many years ago, she belly-danced her way across Northern Japan and taught English there, too. She loves eating labneh and cucumber pita sandwiches on hot summer days.
- Winner, International Book Awards (Multicultural Fiction)
- Winner, Gold IPPY Award (Multicultural Fiction)
Adele grinned when she heard Ben's name. He was a blond, blue-eyed boy who was new to their school and Adele had a crush on him since the beginning of the year when he chose the desk next to hers and smiled at her with those big, blue eyes. Sometimes she imagined taking his hand and guiding him around the side of the school, gently pushing him against the red-bricked wall and kissing him softly on the lips while his fingers touched her cheeks and felt the heat coming from her skin. As she thought of Ben, her stomach began to flutter. She suddenly felt flushed.
"So, can you make it?" Melissa asked, waking Adele from her fantasy.
"Probably not. You know how my father is," Adele replied, her voice dropping.
"But I'm turning thirteen! I want my best friend to be with me," Melissa said and got up from the bench. She stood in front of Adele and added, "Tell him that. Say it's Melissa's thirteenth birthday and she really wants me to be there. He should understand this. This is a big birthday. I'm becoming a teenager! Why do you think my parents are allowing me to have this party without them in the house? If you want, don't tell them my parents won't be there."
Adele turned from Melissa's downcast face and glanced at her other friends. Tracy and Erin were blonde like Melissa. They were still sitting on the bench, swinging their legs as they too chatted.
"My father wouldn't let me go either way," Adele finally confessed.
"He's so old-fashioned," Melissa groaned.
"I know," Adele agreed. "He thinks I'm some village girl."
"With the goats and donkeys!" Melissa laughed, then Tracy and Erin joined her.
Adele smiled weakly but made no comment. She wanted to explain that those animals were a part of her heritage, a part of her parents' homeland, but she couldn't find the words to do it. Instead she stared down at the ground and shuffled her feet.
"Your father is annoying sometimes. I don't know how you live with him. I would be so embarrassed to have him as a dad," Melissa said.
"He doesn't even look like other dads," Tracy piped up, "with that big, curling moustache. You should try to get him to shave it off, Adele."
Still looking down, Adele lowered her voice again, "I can't get him to do that."
"That's too bad," Melissa answered. "If you had parents like mine, you'd be able to go to my party."
"Well, I don't," Adele said. Her friends knew nothing about her and her culture. Her parents didn't own expensive cars or have university degrees. They didn't read or write English. They couldn't possibly understand the importance of turning thirteen. For them, it was just another number. It didn't guarantee more freedom. She suddenly felt very sorry for herself. Why didn't she have parents who could read and write in English? Why was she born to Samira and Youssef and not to parents like Melissa's? "I'm Lebanese," Adele said, louder than she had intended. "My parents are the way they are because we're Lebanese."
None of her friends replied for a long, awkward moment. Then Melissa finally laughed, reaching her hand out to Adele and squeezing her arm. "But you're like us. You were born in Ottawa, right?"
Adele nodded, sniffling now and wiping her nose with the bottom of her sleeve.
"Didn't you learn anything in Mrs. Johnson's class? That makes you Canadian, not Lebanese."
Adele nodded again and when the bell rang, she followed her friends out of the yard, into the school.
When she walked back home later that day the snow on the crocuses from earlier in the day had melted and the purple flowers were wide open under the sun that now shone, turning the sky a dark shade of orange as dusk began to fall. Adele unzipped her coat, letting her body feel the warmth of the sun. Spring was almost here, she thought, deeply breathing the damp scent that comes when winter melts away and spring arrives again. Kneeling, she touched the purple petals, careful not to break them off the plant and as she rose again, her eyes fell on the layered black hair of a teenaged girl sitting in a red Trans-Am a block away from Adele's house. Her hair was just like Rima's. Was it her? Then Adele spotted a boy, leaning into the girl's face and kissing her. There was no way that Rima could be allowing that, Adele thought, but when the girl turned her face slightly, Adele gasped. It was her sister. She quickly stepped back and hid behind a maple tree, pressing her hands in the rough bark while she peered at her sister and the teenaged boy in the red Trans-Am. From what she could see, he had blond hair and a square-jaw. He definitely wasn't Lebanese. Without budging from her spot, she prayed Rima would pull herself away from this boy and get out of the automobile before their father saw her. After a few minutes of kissing, Rima finally got out and waved at the boy before he sped down the street. Hurrying, Adele came out from behind the tree and ran up the sidewalk to join her sister. She hooked her arm into Rima's, chanting, "Rima and blond boy sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g."
Rima jumped. "Shit, you scared me, Adele!" she exclaimed.
"First comes love, then comes marriage then comes Rima pushing a baby carriage!" Adele teased.
Rima stopped and pushed Adele away from her. "Shut up! Don't tell Babba about this."
"Who is he? Your boyfriend?" Adele crooned.
"None of your damn business." "You know Babba won't let you date him."
"I don't care what he thinks."
"Then why didn't you let him drop you off at home, eh?"
"Shut up, Adele! You better keep your mouth shut or I'll shut it for you," Rima said, raising a clenched fist towards Adele's face.
Adele stepped back. "I'm only teasing."
"Well, I'm not. I'll break every bone in your body if you open your big
"The title of Sonia Saikaley's coming-of-age novel, The Allspice Bath, beautifully expresses the dilemma faced by its gutsy main character, Adele Azar: whether to conform to the strict expectations and traditions of her Lebanese immigrant family--literally, to sink into a bath of the spice most often used in Lebanese cooking-- or to dare to rebel and live her life, her way. For Adele, there are no easy answers to the questions: who am I and who do I want to be? Growing up in Ottawa in the 1970s and 1980s as the youngest of the four daughters, she is constantly torn between whether to be a 'good Lebanese girl' or a 'real' Canadian--a struggle that begins with her father's first words to her, 'You should have been a boy.' Adele chafes under the limitations placed on her by her family, resents the way her sisters bow to the wills of their father, boyfriends and husbands, and secretly longs to be the daughter of a kindly Anglo-Canadian woman living next door. But she is also unable to stop herself from seeking her father's love and approval. When a medical crisis leaves young Adele 'unfit' for marriage, her father devises a surprising solution that takes the family back to the Old Country, a trip that will have repercussions on Adele's adult life. Honest, unflinching and unsentimental, the story of Adele's journey to womanhood, her self-transformation from resentful daughter to independent artist, from rejection of her family to reconciliation with them, captures the emotional complexities faced by many first-generation daughters of immigrant families."
--Terri Favro, author of Sputnik's Children and Once Upon a Time in West Toronto
"With grace, precision, and honesty, Sonia Saikaley opens a door to reveal the inner workings of families that are both shaped and disrupted by immigration's clash of cultures."
--Dimitri Nasrallah, author of The Bleeds and Niko
"This lovely story will have you empathize and root for Adele, a young woman caught in the cultural crosshairs of her parents' native country and their adopted land, who learns to listen closely and hear the strains of her brave new voice."
--Shilpi Somaya Gowda, bestselling author of The Golden Son
"Sonia Saikaley's The Allspice Bath is a deeply-moving portrayal of family life and an intimate exploration of the ties that bind. From the first chapter, we are drawn into the vibrant lives of the Azar family, particularly the Azar sisters, first-generation Lebanese-Canadians who have a foot in the culture of their birth and another in that of their parents'. The result is at times a precarious balancing act, brought to life with compassion and realism through Adele, our counter-culture, free-thinking protagonist. Saikaley shows with vivid, and at times heart-breaking prose, what it takes for a young, modern woman to breakaway from tradition in pursuit of her own dreams. This book will resonate strongly with any reader who has felt torn by living between two worlds, made sacrifices to pursue a dream, or faced the hard truth that it is often the ones who love us the most that hurt us the deepest. But as Saikaley demonstrates with enviable pathos, when it comes to family, where there is love, forgiveness is always possible."
--Anita Kushwaha, author of Side by Side
"Sonia Saikaley's The Allspice Bath exudes authenticity and sensibility. It is a brilliantly told tale of a turbulent father-daughter relationship set against the Lebanese immigrant experience in Canada."
--Ian Thomas Shaw, author of Quill of the Dove
"The turning point for this bildungsroman happens in Lebanon, when Saikaley balances betrayal with descriptions of olive trees, dust, and messy stone walls. To grow, to survive, Adele must rebel against her family's expectations, shifting between her two identities until she finds her way and by doing so changes her family."
--Debra Martens, Canadian Writers Abroad