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Bone & Bread

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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.

445 pages, Paperback

First published February 26, 2013

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About the author

Saleema Nawaz

4 books182 followers
Saleema Nawaz is the author of the short story collection Mother Superior and the novel Bone and Bread, which won the 2013 Quebec Writers’ Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in many Canadian literary journals, and her short story “My Three Girls,” won the 2008 Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Saleema completed a Bachelor of Humanities at Carleton University and an M.A. in English Literature at the University of Manitoba, where her novella “The White Dress” was awarded the inaugural Robert Kroetsch Prize for Best Creative Thesis.

She currently lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 325 reviews
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
616 reviews377 followers
March 31, 2017
Let me open with some praise: I enjoyed Bone & Bread much more than I would have anticipated based on the cover. But, here’s the thing: the cover.


You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a fine adage for schoolteachers and bookworms to toss around, but it is also something I find nearly impossible. The book cover should act as a snapshot of what is contained within. If a novel is a house, then the cover is you furtively looking through a window into that house (in the least creepy way possible). A cover lets the reader know that the shirtless, axe-wielding bodybuilder astride a winged goat is likely not going to be an appropriate choice for the fans of quirky romance novels. Sometimes, an interesting quote or font used for the book’s title is enough to capture the reader’s attention.

A cover is meant to entice the reader and, when in a bookshop, it is usually the cover that intrigues me enough to read the synopsis on the back.

But, hey! It’s Canada Reads, and the whole thing is about reading something you might not normally choose of your own accord. Right?

Bone & Bread features a cover where two young girls (or women) of different colored skin stare at each other. What does this gaze suggest? A YA lesbian coming-of-age story (not quite, but there’s some of that)? Deep understanding? A staring contest that will culminate in a head-butt? The font on the cover might lead you to think that the book is romance novel (it isn’t), or perhaps a period piece (also not the case).

One thing is certain: it certainly was hard to explain my book choice to those I encountered while reading Bone & Bread.

To the cashier at the bookstore I had to explain that this wasn’t a gift for my girlfriend, sister, mother, or any other female relation. When I explained it was for me, I quickly added, “But it’s for Canada Reads.”

To the lady who sat beside me on a flight from Toronto to Calgary reading Game of Thrones. We connected over our shared appreciation for Westeros on the page and the screen. When she asked what I was reading, I showed her the cover. Her face shifted as though she had opened a Tupperware container who’s contents had long since seen their best-before date. “Oh, well, that isn’t the type of thing I’d be interested in.”

To the boy and girl bundled in snowsuits after an afternoon skating at Lake Louise, who walked in front of my impromptu reading station to ask why I was reading a book for girls. “Patriotism?”

But, dear Goodreaders, did I take the judgment to heart? Did I abandon a book for the awkward social situations in which it placed me? Did I let those young oppressors dissuade me from my task? Goodreader, I did not.


So, I read Bone & Bread. It wasn’t at all what I had anticipated. It wasn’t something I would have picked up on my own. But I ended up enjoying it more than I have any other of this year’s CR selections. In brief, this is the story of sisterhood narrated by Beena (a sister) after the sudden passing of her sister. Beena and her son navigate their grief, the mysteries of Sadhanna’s life prior to her passing, and try to structure their lives in the wake of their shared tragedy.

Nawaz has a knack for characterization, and the predominantly female cast is full of well-differentiated personalities. My one complaint on the character front: the men. They are all a bit too strong-headed and their silent stoicism comes off as a bit clichéd. With that said, the story is primarily concerned with sisterhood, and Beena and Sadhanna rightfully sit at its center.

The prose is actually quite strong, though the novel does seem as if it could have benefitted from a good editing session. Bone & Bread is about 100-pages over-full, and removing one of the more ancillary storylines could have tightened this into a much more cohesive read. A part of the story that works quite well is the depiction of Sadhanna’s anorexia throughout. As a reader I was led through Sadhanna’s progression as the disease began to take over her life, but it is most powerfully presented through the effect of anorexia on the people who love Sadhanna most.

I kept drawing comparisons between Bone & Bread and Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows as I read. Both deal with sisterhood and the loss of a loved one due to an almost indecipherable mental illness. I enjoyed Toews’ effort more for its shorter length: it was a powerful piece that didn’t overstay its welcome. Instead, it ended quickly, but lingered with me long after I had finished the last pages. Bone & Bread, by comparison, is filled to the brim with events, characters, and by the end, social justice. Though it is still a pretty good book, it definitely could have been tightened to make a tighter novel with more kick.

All in all, worth your time despite the cover!
Profile Image for Peter.
149 reviews3 followers
August 22, 2013
I'm not often intimidated yet, noticing that I'm the first male to be leaving a comment, I'm feeling a tiny bit of of trepidation.

It's not terribly surprising that [only?] women are commenting and presumably reading Bone and Bread since this is essentially a book about two sisters and their relationships; mainly with each other but with others as well. So, relationships. Not really guy material at all. And, incidentally, astonishingly well written.

Why astonishing? Well, this is a debut novel which sure doesn't read like one. The bar has been set very high for the sophomore novel.
Profile Image for Petra.
1,109 reviews12 followers
November 18, 2018
I really enjoyed the beginning of this story. The childhood of Beena and Sadhana was wonderfully told. Their mother was such a caring, carefree soul. Bad things happen, sometimes through Fate, sometimes through bad choices but the anger that lived in Beena seemed overwhelming. It kept her distant from family & friends, relationships and trust. I found her actions near the end of the book somewhat insulting to Sadhana. Perhaps that's just me, though.
The storyline with Libby was inexcusable. Her actions were shallow, at the least. To say more would require spoiling the story; suffice to say her actions were inexcusable.
Sadhana, for all her problems, seems to have been the one who tried the hardest to find her wayand was slowly achieving that. There's no way of telling for sure.
The refugee story confused and diluted the rest. I get the concept of "new beginnings" tied to Beena and her life but it muddied things.
This started well but lost me along the way.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
141 reviews6 followers
May 22, 2013
I felt a sort of melancholy while reading this book, thinking about how life can be filled with so much loss.
The storytelling was exquisite, in my opinion. The way the words flow was soothing; the sentences fit just right.
It's interesting to think about how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we think others see us and how these perceptions play in our relationships. This is what I was thinking about with Beena and her son Quinn or Beena and her sister Sadhana, or any of the other relationships in the story.
I'm now also craving Montreal bagels ;-)
Profile Image for Krista.
1,351 reviews516 followers
March 12, 2016
We sat up that whole long night with our mother, and the world grew black as we wept, which was right, and the stars winked on one by one, like cosmic comedians with unbearable mirth, and when the sun had not yet risen, Mama pulled out the mats and bent herself forward and back, stretching in silence from Bhujangasana to Parvatasana, her whole body seeming to collapse and expand in turn as she moved through her yoga postures like a dance with space.

Bone and Bread is a book with alternating timelines. In the first, we meet Beena – single mother to the nearly grown Quinn, living in Ottawa – whose sister Sadhana has recently died mysteriously; her body laying undiscovered in her Montreal apartment for nearly a week. In the second timeline, we watch as the sisters begin their lives in a small apartment above the Montreal bagel bakery that their parents own. Their father is an observant Sikh who nonetheless defied his parents' wishes by marrying their mother; an American hippy convert to Sikhism; a woman deeply into yoga and meditation and the wisdom of the gurus. By the time they are teenagers, the sisters have become orphans (losing their father when very young, and eventually their mother, too), and under the perfunctory guardianship of their father's brother, Beena becomes pregnant by one of the “bagel boys” from the shop below and Sadhana has begun a lifelong struggle with anorexia. In the present timeline, Beena needs to clean out her sister's apartment and look for clues: Was Sadhana happy? Was she eating? Could Beena have prevented her sister's death? While the concept was interesting enough and the writing was often lovely, I didn't really love this book: it felt overlong without actually telling me anything.

As Oscar Wilde quipped, “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”, but if author Saleema Nawaz needed to kill off the elder Singhs in order to set her events in motion, then that's her authorial privilege (though I do find it an interesting contrast that in the original short story – Bloodlines – upon which this novel was based, their father doesn't keel over in the bagel shop until after Beena tells him she's pregnant). I think that Nawaz did a good job of showing how becoming orphans at 16 and 14 is a unique experience: it's certainly a tragedy, but in the form of an untethering from loving concern; the girls are forced to grasp ways of taking over responsibility for themselves and both make dangerous, life-altering decisions. But I want to note that while their father's weak heart is a good device to add mystery to Sadhana's later death, their mother's manner of death made me want to fling the book against the wall.

Here's my main complaint: No one in this book ever wants to answer a direct question; everything is evasion and cold shoulders. Quinn always lies about where he's going (and while the reader knows this is true, we have no more idea what he's up to than his mother does); if teenaged Beena wants to know what Sadhana is thinking, she needs to read her sister's poisoned-pen diary (which the reader doesn't get to read along with); at family group counselling sessions, the sisters would rather fight over whether Beena is rolling her eyes than actually contribute anything (and while I understand that this does a fine job of illustrating their attitudes, I never understood their inner workings). Quinn secretly met his father and there's hidden camera footage of it? Well, maybe he'll tell Beena about that some day – we never hear the details. The absolute worst for this, though, was Libby: A character who is desperate to meet with Beena because she has important information about Sadhana, “But, no, I'm too upset to share it even if you came all the way to Montreal to meet with me...Okay, well, maybe this time I'll just tell you that I was together with your sister...but there's more...but I'm too sad to tell you...here's a big spoiler, and by the way I stole Sadhana's final diary that you were looking for but I threw it away...oh here's the diary that I didn't actually throw away and there's someone I need to introduce you to but first let's do all this shopping...hey, where are you going?” I hated every bit of that (and especially the big spoiler! Come ON!), but when Beena threw the final diary and all its hidden clues into the fountain unread, I wanted to throw this book in the fountain after it.

I see some reviewers are put off by the political subplots, but I don't think you can set a book in modern day Quebec without acknowledging these realities; and as refugees are obviously more front of mind today, it's not unhelpful to contrast the resettlement of thousands with a specific individual case from just a few years ago. My complaint is a bit more specific: I honestly don't see how a first generation Indo-Quebecois like Ravi Patel could whip up a group of isolationist pure laine protesters; how this brown man could be a top player in a political party devoted to reducing immigration and promoting in-province birth rates was an irony beyond my understanding and seemed to betray Nawaz as a recent transplant to Quebec herself.

And to get specific about the writing, Nawaz is all about the long metaphors which can be lovely – as in the passage I opened with – or faux-meaningful as in the following:

The church boasts verdigris spires in limited heights – its size meant to accommodate a goodly sized parish and elevate their spirits to a modest degree. Once, when these roads were still dirt, it might have held all who could hear the peal of its bell. Now the faithful tread to its doors on a shell of concrete, the second great crust of the earth.

That paragraph satisfies the tongue if you pause to roll it around a bit, but what does it mean ultimately? It doesn't state outright that the church no longer holds a goodly sized parish now that the roads are paved to ease passage to services there (it also never says that it ever did attract a crowd, for that matter, only that it “might have”), and then you pause to wonder if “a shell of concrete” actually is “the second great crust of the earth”; why let that go unchallenged? This book is chock full of paragraphs just like that, and while the reader gets the sense that great writing is happening, that feeling just doesn't survive closer scrutiny. If it feels like I'm being unnecessarily harsh on my one chosen example, I defy you to make sense of this line: Regret has simply become the shadow I would cast if I stood in the sun.

At 445 pages – in a book where no one will answer a straight question, much of the interesting action happens off the page, and there are pages and pages of overwritten metaphorical passages – this book just felt too long. There was much to admire in Nawaz's world-building – I would have especially liked to have gotten to know the girls' parents better – but I don't think this book stacks up against the other Canada Reads titles I've enjoyed this year.
Profile Image for JenniferD.
1,006 reviews360 followers
March 4, 2016
this is a big, heartfelt novel. nawaz has created some very interesting, complicated characters and so much of the dynamics of relationships felt true and real. the psychology at play in this book will have me thinking for ages to come. while the novel very much navigates the terrain of sisterhood, it's also reads a bit like a mystery, as the circumstances of sadhana's death, though known, are more fully explored and, eventually, revealed. i wasn't quite fully captured by the inclusion of the political unrest going on in quebec at the time, and which was included as one arc in the book. it just didn't hit solid footing for me. (another recent read of mine, which i loved and that handled the quebec referendum quite well, elizabeth hay's His Whole Life.) otherwise, there are some wonderfully meaty themes going on in the story.

i have owned this book since its publication - yes it's taken me a while to get to it! but i am so glad i have finally read it, and that it made the cut for this year's edition of canada reads. the theme for the show in 2016 is 'starting over'. so this context was very much in mind as i read. i have read 3 of the 5 contenders so far (Minister Without Portfolio and The Illegal being the other two). i have certainly appreciated the resiliency, and ability for the characters in each of the books to carry on and continue moving forward. is this the same as starting over, though? of course, all of these traits/abilities are so important and necessary in a person being able to start over. so it's been interesting to approach each of these stories in the context of 'canada reads'. but, as happens every year, i wonder how my experience with a book would be without the program in my mind??

there is one line in nawaz's novel which completely speaks to the theme, though, and i fully expect it to be noted, quoted and built upon on the show. (context: at a diner for breakfast, celebrating a birthday; the girls were raised as vegetarians. from p. 343.)
"Of all meals, breakfast the way it was served in a diner bore the least connection to anything we had grown up eating. It was nourishment without attachment, merciful food. Every piece of bacon was like starting over as someone else."
but, back to 'bone & bread' (sorry about my 'canada reads' tangent) - nawaz's writing is beautiful and this is a strong debut novel. i hope you will read it, if you haven't already.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
Author 3 books116 followers
June 18, 2013
For a 450-page book, I can't believe how sad I was to be leaving these characters once I reached the end. You'd think I would have had my fill of them by then, but I could read about sisters Beena and Sadhana for many, many, many pages more.

Saleema Nawaz is a beautiful writer who crafted an incredibly rich and vivid story in Bone and Bread. From the characters to the setting to the story itself, I couldn't have loved this novel more. Definitely my favourite read of 2013 so far. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Erin.
2,887 reviews488 followers
March 23, 2023
Re-posted in 2023

This book has been part of my school library for quite a few years. Last Tuesday, I decided to make it the next choice for my independent reading. Overall, I am a little underwhelmed. No doubt there are important storylines, I just never felt connected to the characters.
Profile Image for Doreen.
963 reviews38 followers
January 29, 2016
The novel begins with the death of Sadhana Singh. Beena, her older sister, is the narrator. As she clears his sister’s apartment and tries to uncover the circumstances behind Sadhana’s sudden death, she narrates the story of her family’s past and her present. The sisters, the daughters of an American yoga instructor and a Sikh baker, grow up above the family’s bagel shop in the Hasidic community in Montreal. Orphaned, they are left in the care of a traditional Sikh uncle. As teenagers, Beena becomes an unwed mother and Sadhana begins a struggle with anorexia.

The book examines the complicated bonds of sisterhood, what Beena calls “the deep trenches of our relationship.” They are very different, almost foils. Beena is introverted and self-conscious whereas Sadhana is an extrovert with numerous friends and causes. Beena also lacks Sadhana’s artistic flair. The title seems to refer to the two sisters, Sadhana being the bone and Beena the bread: Sadhana is hard-edged and brittle and physically she is all bone while Beena is softer and physically tends to be heavier. Sibling rivalry is certainly obvious: the girls are competitive. And things are not improved by the fact that they do not really communicate. Beena’s final observation that “the work of getting closer, of loving harder, is the work of a whole life” is a good summary of their relationship: they were not always as close as they should have been and didn’t always love each other as much as they should have.

I found it difficult to like either sister. Each tends to let anger affect her relationship with her sister, and both seem rather selfish. Only after Sadhana dies does Beena try to understand things from her sister’s point of view, and Sadhana’s actions before her death suggest she too was not giving due consideration to her sister’s decisions concerning her son.

Some of the characters lack sparkle. The uncle becomes just a male version of the cruel stepmother, and Evan, Beena’s love interest, is just too good to be true. Even Quinn, Beena’s son, is flat and uninteresting. This problem probably stems from the fact that we see them only from Beena’s viewpoint and are never given their thoughts and feelings.

The novel certainly has emotional depth in its showing the love and resentment and competitiveness of sisters, but I found the book unnecessarily lengthy. The plot seems stretched. For instance, the mystery around Sadhana’s death is supposed to add interest, but the suspense seems forced. It takes Libby so long to tell her story! And her revelation shows behaviour that is unbelievable for someone who supposedly loved Sadhana. There are other events that serve little purpose other than to emphasize the differences between the lives of the two women. The sub-story concerning the immigrants was too detailed, veering as it does into the political realm which has little importance in the relationship between the sisters. Events that should have been detailed, like the meeting between Quinn and Ravi, are only sketched - again, this weakness derives from the point of view chosen for narration.

I read this novel because it appears on the shortlist of Canada Reads 2016 which has the theme of starting over - books about transformation and second chances, stories of people choosing, or being forced, to make major changes in their lives. I shall be listening to the debates with interest because I find the theme of starting over is really not central in this book. Though both girls have to move on after deaths and birth in their family, there is little transformation. There is only the possibility of change in Beena’s life if she accepts “the work of a whole life” and tries harder to be more open in her relationships.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).
23 reviews4 followers
August 28, 2015
Bone and Bread is another book I cannot praise enough. Saleema Nawaz writes beautifully, she is especially great at creating unique similes, setting the tone for her novel, and in my opinion her similes make her writing stand out from other authors. In Bone & Bread Nawaz created characters I loved, made me frustrated, and at times made me want to smack them. Crafting relatable characters takes talent and is what distinguishes good fiction from bad. In Bone & Bread we follow the lives of two sisters, Beena and Sadhana, who have many unfortunate life changing events happen at very young ages. The book explores the relationship between sisters, the pain of anorexia/bulimia, and the struggles of family. Saleema Nawaz is a fellow Canadian (big smiles), she currently lives in Montreal, and Bone & Bread won the Quebec Writers' Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2013.

This work of contemporary fiction is a great portrayal of the genre, and those who love books like The Girl Who Was Saturday Night will enjoy Bone and Bread. The theme of this book centres around the length of time and continuous work it takes to love someone. There is more wisdom in this book than one could hope for and the quotes that resonated with me fill three pages of my notebook, I wish I could share them all here in this review. I left this book with a head full of thoughts. A book leaving a lasting impression is integral to reader experience.

"Whatever denial might be staving off, its ultimate gift seems to me to be mercy. Reprieve."

Nawaz writes beautifully, her prose are inspiring, flowing well, making an enjoyable read. I love her use of similes and feel this is the main learning point of the novel for an aspiring writer. I believe similes strengthen our descriptions and set the tone for a novel. Nawaz has this skill mastered.

"The weight of her trust [mama's] that I could be good would come over me like gravity's spell on a returning astronaut. It burdened my very bones."

Bone and Bread is set in the close cities of Montreal and Ottawa Canada. Nawaz describes these cities wonderfully, imparting her love for both of them.

As far as plot goes, Bone and Bread is ripe with intrigue. It's tough not to connect with Beena, wondering how she copes being a teen mother and caring for her anorexic sister. How are these responsibilities going to shape her life? The story had it's predictable moments, but Nawaz throws in some doozies that won't be forgotten.

"We all had an idea of who we were or wanted to be, and we could only be in the world in a such a way that was an approximation of that ideal."

Bone and Bread is predominately character driven, specifically focused on the narrator, Beena. Her story is easy to connect with, pulling the reader in. We see the other characters, her sister Sadhana, her son Quinn, her Uncle, and her boyfriend Evan, through Beena's eyes. Nawaz does a wonderful job of crafting unique characters, then filtering them through Beena's perspective.

In all, Bone and Bread is a wonderful read that will leave you in a reflective mood. I guarantee you will be thinking about Beena and her family for days afterwards. As I said before, I can't recommend this book enough.

"Maybe too much closeness keeps people apart."

Love tweeting about books and writing? So do I!
Profile Image for Jacquie.
155 reviews8 followers
May 19, 2015
This story held a lot of promise but did not deliver. The characters were each shallow and selfish. For two sisters that only had each other, I felt that their trials were not relatible. Disappointingly slow, with an anti-climatic ending. It started out wonderfully with beautifully written descriptions of Montreal, but the characters fell flat for me.
3 reviews
February 19, 2014
I really enjoyed this but I confess I'm a brown girl, born and bred in Montreal. It was easy, too easy to enjoy the references to my hometown and the trips down memory lane that Saleema Nawaz evoked. I'm also one of three sisters and so the complicated relationship between Beena and Sadhana resonated, albeit painfully most of the time. The prose is lovely and not fatiguing; for once I didn't have skip over long boring descriptions. I'm not sure I loved the ending; I found the whole protest and refugee family story line a bit tiresome and as others have mentioned, the big "reveal" was anticlimactic. Having said that, those points are minor in comparison to the beauty of the novel as a whole. A solid 4 from me.
Profile Image for Jason.
Author 3 books929 followers
July 7, 2015
I enjoyed this book, though I found it a bit overlong. Though the majority of the novel focuses on the relationship between two sisters as they navigate one sister's eating disorder, but I was also interested in the take-up of issues of immigration and citizenship in Quebec. Laura has already made a video about this book on Hello Hemlock and mine will be up soon.
Profile Image for Alexis.
Author 6 books131 followers
June 7, 2013
An excellent, beautiful novel about the lives of two sisters, both of whom are struggling with their own demons. I enjoyed the gorgeous writing, nuanced characters, Sikh background of the characters and the Montreal and Ottawa setting.

I'll be writing a column about this book. Nice work Saleema!
Profile Image for Peter.
466 reviews43 followers
May 27, 2017
As the title of Saleema Nawaz's novel suggests, the reader will encounter much that is related to food and eating. Indeed, the entire book rests on its ability to find different ways, means and motives to incorporate the preparation of food, types of food, similes and metaphors that centre on food and even characters that relate to food into the narrative structure.

The novel centres on two sisters of different ages but who the same birth date. It is evident that Nawaz wants the reader to compare the sisters. To accomplish this each of the sisters has an issue with food. Beena Singh is the bread sister. Self-described as overweight on more than one occasion, Beena is constantly portrayed as consuming food; Sadhana, is the bone sister. She is the anorexic. Thus, the reader is presented with opposites that have a similar foundation of genetics and birth. This tension of opposites forms one of the central foundations of the narrative.

Nawaz takes full advantage of this structure and builds out from her base of plot in many directions. Their mother, whose background is Irish, marries a Sikh. Thus there is a cultural, colour and religious divide. The mother leans towards the spiritual hippie-side of the spectrum. The mother is a free spirit. She tells her daughters early in the novel how it takes stars "a thousand years to reach the earth." Here Nawaz introduces the expansive motif of the book. We are also told early in the novel that the world shrank "like fat and flesh melting into bone." Expansion and contraction. How does one see the world?

For the girl's father, the world is small. He works long hours in a bagel shop. Because he married out of his culture his family has shrunk away from him until his sole contact is his brother. For the father, home and work are intricately joined together in a small space. The family lives atop the bagel store.

To me, the central question of the novel is to what extent can a person be directly responsible for their world? Are we the centre of a world and can expand, by our own free-will, our experiences and frames of reference or are we in a world where external influences force our world to contract, even if we try to resist? The novel tracks the seemingly endless contraction and expansion of the sisters and their relationships with each other throughout the novel.

Nawaz has a wonderful touch with selecting just the right word or phrase. Beena says at an early point in the novel that "The weight of [Mama's] trust that I could be good would come over me like gravity's spell on a returning astronaut. It burdened my very bones." This tight metaphor contains both the feeling of expansion and the reduction of contraction at the same time and also works as an echo of the title with the word "bone." While the word bone refers more directly to the anorexic sister Sadhana in many ways, it is most suitable here to refer to Beena herself. On more than one occasion Beena feels contracted when she thinks about her mother.

The motif of expansion and contraction finds its strongest voice with the relationship between Beena and her son Quinn who was born out of wedlock. Their relationship is the soil in which both characters both thrive and struggle to survive. Beena was still a teenager when she gave birth to Quinn. Nawaz clearly demonstrates how the mother and son instruct each other in the skills of growth, understanding, acceptance and, when necessary, defiance of both society and each other as they both grow into maturity.

The novel's arc spans about 20 years, and so by the end of the novel Quinn is older than his mother when she gave birth to him. This length of time gives Nawaz much to work with in terms of events and people, but it is here that I found the novel to be weak. It seems to me that the novel's chronological length was too great for the author to hold all the events in a strongly integrated format. I found the novel began to wobble and loose its focus. The sub-plot of Quinn's search for his father - while understandable - interfered with other sub-plots. To me, too much was going on. To expand on the recurring focus on food in the the novel I would say it offered up a wonderful banquet, but one's reading plate was full to overflowing. Much like a buffet line, there is too much variety to focus on, and then too little place to put all the food. The uncle sub-plot, the Diana sub-plot, the Libby - Sidhara sub plot, the Diana sub-plot and other minor bits clouded rather than enhanced the major themes.

I would also have liked more variety in the verb form. It seems the trend these days is that the verb used to describe dialogue is almost exclusively "said." This book is a good example of this style. I understand that one of the mantras of writing is "show, don't tell" but too many "said" words and there is no variety to feast upon.

Beena asks near the end of the novel "I wonder how much of love is a simple hunger. The desire to take something inside ourselves?" I think that is a perfect question to ask. I also think it is a good suggestion for the novel. Love is a hunger. I believe the novel should have focussed more on less. Banquets are good. Simple meals can sustain us too.

The end sentence of the novel was very strong and connected perfectly with its central motifs. Beena is with Quinn and Beena notes "we are eating together and we are alive. And the work of getting closer, of loving harder, is the work of a whole life."

Overall, I think Saleema Nawaz has a very bright future as a novelist.
Profile Image for Angela.
86 reviews8 followers
August 29, 2015
I highly recommend the book. In fact, I'll read it again. Saleema if you are reading this, I want to tell you everything I appreciated about your book: I thought the pacing and suspense was amazing. I cared about the characters--they felt like real people. I loved the Bagel shop setting and the various apartments because I could really picture them. It felt like Montreal, like the story couldn't have taken place in just any city. You tackled some pretty huge issues: politics, immigration, family dynamics, mental health, death and love. And you did it with grace, deep feeling, and considerable skill. I've already enjoyed some of the stories in Mother Superior and I'm eager to read what you write next. Thank you for Bone and Bread.

The following is not a review so much as it is my thoughts about various aspects of this very beautiful novel. Please be aware that there are many spoilers if you haven't read the book yet.

Saleema Nawaz has been very skilful, in my opinion, to show the reader how the events of their lives have shaped two sisters--even though they are very different. The worrisome behaviours that Sadhana demonstrates in her childhood will supposedly devolve into her cause of death.

Because of this point of view, the actions of Uncle seemed to ring very true. He is doing his duty by his nieces, whatever his feelings, and I would have been surprised to see him commiserating with the girls or accompanying Beena to the hospital in her labour. I wonder what his own childhood was like? He's clearly WAY out of his depth with the troubles of the two very different women in his family. Especially since he doesn't have experience raising children in the first place. And no wife to discuss things with! It's devastating that Beena has no support throughout her pregnancy, labour, and early parenting but I don't personally feel the blame rests on Uncle.

I like all the ways you can think of bone and bread:

Bone could represent Sadhana since she's starving herself down to her bones. Bread could represent Beena since she's been the "chubby" sister.

Bone is what's left on your plate when you're done eating. Bread is often served at the beginning of the meal.

Bone symbolizes lack while bread symbolizes plenty (it's even a slang word for money)

Bone is hard. Bread is soft. Think of the sisters' personalities!

Bone makes you think of hardship (like "working your fingers to the bone") bread is social (breaking bread together)

With regard to the Mars bar portion, I took it like this: Sadhana knows the ropes by this time with the language counsellors use. It's like she knows what the counsellor wants to hear and she's providing those cues just to get the session over with. Beena, similarly, has been through it all for so long that she can see right through her sister's charade. That sounds a bit cynical--but I think Beena must be feeling a bit cynical. Besides, human motivation is so complicated. Sadhana could be earnestly seeking help, willing to give the counselling a try, and simultaneously tired of it all and wanting to be left alone.

I understand that eating disorders are very difficult to work through, with high rates of relapse. I think the author does a fine job of depicting real (and complex) human emotion without making Bone and Bread a hopeless story. We know Sadhana dies as a result of her anorexia but we care about the relationship between the sisters and how it affects both of them.

I loved the last line: "The work of getting closer, of loving harder, is the work of a whole life!" And isn't that the point of fiction? To remind us of the important things that we already KNOW but need to hear again and again--that love is hard but worth the hard work.

My final analysis after switching off my kindle is that, with a few minor criticisms, I really really enjoyed this novel. Here are my reservations:

1. Libby's revelation is so horrific that I found it somewhat unbelievable. True: Libby was acting like a person with a horrible secret so, yes, that adds up. But I can't believe that a generally normal, rather likeable person would actually leave a person for a week. Maybe a couple of hours or overnight. But a whole week until neighbours complained? That stretched my credulity.

2. I found that the Ravi/Quinn meeting anti-climactic. It was coming, coming coming throughout the whole novel and then it was over without much description. I feel like Saleema could have given readers a bit more, you know?

3. I also felt like the ending with a teeny bit rushed. Maybe that was because I was reading on a kindle? You know when you have a book in your hand--you can adjust your expectations because you can physically FEEL that you have only 2 or 3 pages left to wrap up the story? Well, on a kindle, it felt like I was dropped like a hot potato! Suddenly it's over and I had so many questions. True, I felt hopeful about the mother/son relationship--that was well done. But Evan? Ravi? Libby? I guess I would have preferred more tying off of loose ends.

But having explained these critiques, I still highly recommend the book. See first paragraph!
Profile Image for Diane.
29 reviews
January 7, 2019
I really loved this book. Heart-wrenching, for sure. But such beautiful character portraits - I was transported into their lives. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.
Profile Image for Rhonda.
103 reviews21 followers
August 1, 2016
I've been vacillating on whether or not to write a review of this book. Having read and 'liked' some of the reviews that are already on GR, I felt it wasn't really necessary, things I'd want to say have already been said. But on the other hand, I wanted mostly to point out that I did like this book, a debut novel by an author I think has promise, one whose work I will follow with interest.

One thing I loved about this book, and in all fairness it's more of an aside rather than particular to Nawaz' writing, is the setting. A native of Montreal myself, who also moved to Ottawa in my twenties, I always enjoy stories set in a world that I know so well, that I can envision as I read. The story itself had overlaps to my own life as well. My sister, two years my younger, also died before her 'time,' and I could relate to many of the emotions Beena, the elder sister experiences after her sister's passing; regret, guilt, grief.

I also loved the writing - at times. At times, Nawaz writes eloquently using descriptive language that keeps the reader spiralling in the images set down on the page, the emotions.

However, some of the 'spiralling' just left me dizzy. One of my biggest problems with the book is that in my view it needed to be edited more thoroughly. Besides several errors that I found (Even, instead of Evan; grammatical errors), I found that the description sometimes ran away with itself. It reminded me of a critical piece of advice gleaned from a famous author (whose name eludes me at the moment) that a writer must not get caught up in the beauty of his/her own sentences at the expense of the story, the narrative. The writer needs to be true to the story and the telling of the story above all.

And, the characters, although well developed, did not seem true to me. I could not relate to their seeming 'closeness' and yet their unwillingness to speak truths to one another. They were so secretive, all of them, a trait that conspired to lengthen the novel considerably, to the point that the revelations of truth took so long in coming that I lost patience with these characters and felt distanced or deceived by them personally.

And yet, I still liked this novel.
536 reviews2 followers
April 24, 2016
I do not know where to start with all the things that I loved about this book! I loved the story about two sisters growing up in Montreal with an Irish mother and a Sikh father who runs a bagel shop in Mordecai Richler territory - I loved this as a Montrealer ("born and bred!")and as a Canadian. The cultural mix seemed quintessentially Canadian to me. Throughout the novel, I could almost taste those delicious Montreal bagels!

I loved the portrayal of the relationship between the two sisters. Nawaz explores this relationship with depth, complexity and a far-reaching perception of the ways in which we relate to people.

I loved the style and structure of the novel and the way the author skillfully weaves back and forth between past and present until the two time frames collide dramatically.

Finally, this novel was a real page-turner for me: I really had a hard time putting it down until the outcome was revealed. When I first read the ending, I was initially a bit disappointed as there are some loose ends. However, when I looked at it again and thought about it, I realized that a bit of a messy ending was really more appropriate for the story. Our relationships and the way that we deal with them are rarely tied up neatly.

Saleema Nawaz is a very talented writer. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
Profile Image for Corey.
Author 12 books152 followers
October 12, 2015
Ah, sometimes it feels so good to leave one’s comfort zone and be reminded of the joys inherent in superb storytelling, no matter the content or genre. Nawaz effortlessly cuts back and forth through time, following Beena as adult and child, letting the reader travel alongside her as she slowly pieces together the elements of her life. Her characters breathe real, their pains ache beyond the page. It’s a novel filled with moments of grief, toil, and random cruelty, yet it never feels oppressive, never crumbles under its own weight. Nawaz’s graceful plotting and style keep the story intimate, tender, and surprisingly funny.

Read the full review at The Redeblog.
5,870 reviews130 followers
July 10, 2021
Bone & Bread is a contemporary novel written by Saleema Nawaz. It centers on the relationship between two sisters, who was once close as children, but divided by pain and problems as they grew into adulthood and have struggled ceaselessly with the bonds that connect them.

Orphaned at a young age, sisters Beena and Sadhana Singh build their adult lives between Ottawa and Montreal. After a lifelong struggle with an eating disorder, Sadhana dies of a heart attack at the age of thirty-two. Beena, a single mother, is left alone to wrestle with her grief, as well as the secrets of her son Quinn's parentage of Sadhana's lover.

Bone & Bread is written rather well. The narrative is told in alternating timelines – shifting between the months directly following Sadhana's death and the years leading up to it, until the two converges and Beena learns the truth about her sister’s death. Nawaz's depiction of the sisters' relationship is the strength of the novel. In poignant prose, she is able to portray the depth of a familial bond with accuracy and empathy. The relationship is not one of uncomplicated devotion, but peppered with the jealousy, competition, and frustration that are recognizable in a sibling relationship.

All in all, Bone & Bread is a wonderful, albeit somber tale of hidden secrets, separated sisters, and family stories that when left unspoken can eat a person from within.
Profile Image for Alice.
2 reviews9 followers
April 13, 2019
This book is definitely not for everyone, but it was a good choice for me!

I really enjoyed the exploration of sisterhood after tragic events, the mental illness, the completely flawed characters that you still care about, and the setting in Montreal and Ottawa since I've lived in both cities.

The novel is a little long, and obviously not everyone is willing to dedicate 400 pages of reading about family relationships/sisterhood. However I think this book is fantastic and deserves being selected for Canada Reads 2016. (I haven't read the other selected books for that year so I can't tell if it should have won or not)
Profile Image for Irene.
234 reviews
July 7, 2020
Be prepared to be sad when you read this book. There are lots of fun and funny parts in Bone & Bread, but the level of tragedy that the two main characters have sustained is overwhelming. I think that Nawaz very deftly portrays the effects of guilt, however misplaced, on a life.
Profile Image for Kathy.
42 reviews5 followers
February 16, 2022
It was a long time ago that I was so absorbed by a book. It is a poignant story, set in Montreal and Ottawa, and touching many themes as teen pregnancy, dating as a single mother, eating disorders, immigration politics, questions of identity, friendship, and more. The author is capable to integrate these themes into a fluent story that kept me interested until the end.
66 reviews
March 30, 2017
A captivating read - 45 pages from the end and I still couldn't predict how the book would wrap up. Nawaz is a great storyteller. This book should have won CBC's Canada Reads!
Profile Image for tinabel.
276 reviews16 followers
June 16, 2018
After the sudden death of her sister, a recovering anorexic, a woman recalls their turbulent and traumatic upbringing in an attempt to unravel her sister's secrets and exonerate her own misplaced guilt.

Though the supposed "twist" was agonizingly predictable, and Nawaz attempts to tackle too many issues, not all successfully, Bone and Bread is nonetheless a beautiful, tender read about identity and ultimately accepting the things you cannot control.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,418 reviews68 followers
May 20, 2013
I received this book free in a giveaway hosted by Goodreads First Reads.
The main reason that I entered this giveaway for this book was the summary. It sounded so interesting having orphaned sisters one being anorexia and one having a teen pregnancy. That sold me and then I was excited about having actually won. But unfortunately, the story feel a little short for me. It would jump between present day and past events every other chapter. I definitely enjoyed the past events better. The past gave so much more detail into the girls lives and how they were raised and what hardships they had overcame to be where there were today. I did also enjoy the mystery behind Sadhanna's death, but I was dissointed in what had actually happened. There was so much potential for it to have been a better story to her passing. And secretly I wish that there had be some exortion going on.
I found Sadhanna to be the better character because she had so much personality. She was defiant and stubborn but also was the best aunt that Quinn could have asked for. I really wish that we could have seen more into her present life and also read her journal entries. Beena was a very blah character. Her claim to fame was getting knocked up at sixteen. After that it was downhill from there. The other thing that confused me about her was she hadn't graduated, but she went to college but she never actually went to work. How did she pay for anything? Did they just get money from the bagel shop at that was enough to live off. Weird. Quinn was also very blah for me. He was just there. He didn't really do anything.
I do want to give a shout out to Salemma Nawaz because she is a fellow Canadian so that is awesome. I also really thought this cover was perfect for the story. I just didn't enjoy the story that much. I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to anyone unless they enjoy a slower read.
Profile Image for Marieke.
333 reviews189 followers
March 12, 2016
I actually finished this in the middle of this past week, but couldn't quite get my thoughts together, so left it on my currently reading shelf as a reminder. I enjoyed every moment I spent reading this book and looked forward to picking it up again each time I set it down. This is one reason I love Canada Reads each year--I get introduced to at least one entirely new to me book/author that provides me with a great reading experience. I enjoyed this one so much, I had trouble getting into a second Canada Reads selection (I have surrendered to the knowledge I won't have read all five books before the debates this year) so set it aside to read some nonfiction as a break.

So, as a Canada Reads book, it is very readable and I think highly relatable to many people. I was very engaged with the two storylines of the sisters' relationship and with Beena's relationship with her son. Although much was not at all the same for me, the experience of caring for and trying to help a sibling with mental health problems, all while trying to make a life for yourself, is unfortunately very familiar to me. The messy emotional life of that situation in the book rang very true to me. I'm a newish mother with an almost-toddler...so I read all the parts of Beena and Quinn very closely. I'm not sure I would have been so attracted to that storyline if not for my own new motherhood, but I appreciated how Nawaz changed things up as Quinn was at different ages.

I think this book is a very strong contender as a book that all Canadians should read, except for the problem that I am having trouble seeing how it squarely fits the theme of this year's debate: starting over. I am very much looking forward to seeing how that aspect is defended.
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