BONE & BREAD is Saleema Nawaz’s debut novel, and given that it was also on the shortlist (like my previous post) for CBC’s Canada Reads 2016, she has done quite a good job. This book was particularly poignant because it speaks to readers from various backgrounds. Beena, the main character, comes from a mixed marriage in Montreal, and deals with questions around her identity. She has to sift through her coloured (pardon the pun) past to make sense of her future; a future that is riddled with constant big changes. I do think Nawaz could have told this story in three-quarters or less, of the pages she took to write it, a total of 445, but the story is a seamless read from start to finish. It moves along with a heightened sense of getting to the point where Beena can find peace. When the book opens, Beena has lost her sister, and now she must wade through the dust and memory of her past to be able to see her reflection more clearly and understand who she is.
Nawaz is able to convey intense emotions through her writing style. She uses short and crisp sentences to transmit Beena’s incredible regret over things done and not done before her sister’s death. Nawaz has carefully crafted a character speared with self-doubt and confusion, but a character bound by love and duty. Through the delicate relationship between Beena and her sister, Sadhana, Nawaz skillfully weaves in the harsh reality of depression manifesting as anorexia and bulimia. Nawaz shows an educated understanding of this strand of mental illness and I am grateful that she uses her talent to bring awareness to such an important issue. As an artist, I do believe one is in a privileged position to educate the world on various societal and individual elements that plague us. This book also does kind justice in handling Beena’s teen pregnancy and her ability to raise her son while caring for her sister who suffers from depression. It shows her courage to finally free herself from her sister’s hold and move away to live her own life, but also her familial loyalty to always come back to her sister, in Sadhana’s times of need. While many may perceive Beena as a static character who remains passive, her role is incredibly reactionary in a world where everything just seems to happen to her. And this is not too far removed from the reactionary reality that many of us live, with a constant lack of control over our lives. The plot charts Beena’s growth from a girl stewing in self-loathing to a woman who can reach out to forgive and make peace with the ghosts of her past. Nawaz wields her talent with vivid imagery, adeptly crafted similes and poignant phrases that deserve to be branded on T-shirts! Poignant phrases from which I will end with my favourite:
“And the work of getting closer, of loving harder, is the work of a whole life.”
-Beena (BONE & BREAD by Saleema Nawaz)
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