“Bone and Bread” by Saleema Nawaz (2013)
Page Length: 456 pages (electronic review copy)
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.
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. (description from Goodreads)
Bone & Bread is a novel about two sisters. The story is told from the main character Beena’s perspective as an adult. Her mother, father, and most recently her younger sister Sahana has passed leaving only her,her son Quinn, and uncle as her last living relatives. Beena is still reeling over the loss of her younger sister and so is her son (since they were very close), their house has an emptiness to it even though Sadhana never lived at their residence.
The book alternates in the present and past as Beena finds herself revisiting old memories. The time differences were a bit jarring at first when the story starts out, but over the course of a couple of chapters it reads a lot smoother. Sadhana is the more outspoken sister out of the two. She’s very opinionated and outgoing unlike her sister Beena who tends to be quieter and keeps to her self. These stark differences helps to cement their characters and readers see how over time how their clashing personalities, start to put a strain on their relationship as well as certain events.
I enjoyed reading the backstories and the characters feel developed though most of the story takes place in the past. It’s engrossing, and I thought it was very interesting how the author explores the family dynamic and the transition of the sisters lives due to death or life events. On top of the family dynamic, Nalwaz also opens up a powerful discussion on topics such as race separatism, religion, immigration, and mental illness. Instead of taking on so many topics, I wish she had focused on just a few as it felt like she was trying to tackle too much in one story.
While I liked this novel, it was a little too slow-moving for my tastes. Plus the story tended to drag at times. Overall, I still recommend this novel if you like slower-paced, family-centered stories.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair an honest review.