Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz

This is a well written novel about complicated family dynamics and the lasting impact of childhood trauma and guilt.

Beena and Sadhana are teenagers living above their family bagel shop in Montreal.  There's is an unusual childhood from the start.  Their father a Sikh baker whose family has never approved of his career choice or his wife, a white woman who converted to Sikhism but is really more of a spiritualist.  Their father dies of a heart attack when they are too young to really remember him, and their mother of an unfortunate accident for which they blame themselves, when they are young teenagers.  The girls are left in the care of their formal, and rigid paternal uncle who is a bachelor that also has taken over running the bagel shop.

The girls rebel in different ways.  Beena becomes involved with one of the "bagel boys" who works at the shop but disappears after impregnating her at 15.  Sadhana begins a life long struggle with anorexia.  Beena is left to raise both her sister and her son, never really developing her own personality until she and her son move to Ottawa in an effort to live independently.  But the sister continue to rely on each other - travelling back and forth to care for each other and for Beena's son, Quinn.

The book begins in the present, when Sadhana has died of a heart attack at 32 and Beena and Quinn are both feeling responsible as when they'd last seen her they'd fought over Sadhana agreeing to help Quinn find his father, against Beena's wishes.  The book then moves back and forth until we learn the details of their childhoods and young adulthood.  We learn of the secrets they kept from each other, and other's in their lives.  And we see what happens when both Beena and Quinn finally agree to meet with his father.

There are numerous other interesting characters, including Beena and Sadhana's yoga teaching, mystical mother and her equally eccentric friends, Ravi, Quinn's father, who grows into an anti-immigrant political candidate, Libby, Sadhana's lover who Beena only learns of following her death and who carries her own guilty secrets surrounding the death, and Evan, Beena's young police officer boyfriend whose upbringing in a stable family on a Saskatchewan farm could not be more different than Beena's.  But what really kept me going was trying to find some resolution to the complicated relationships between the self-described unconventional family of Beena, Sadhana and Quinn.

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