I have a sister. She’s three years younger and we couldn’t be more different from one another. It’s always fascinating to think about how two people with the same parents and identical upbringings can turn out on opposite sides of the personality umbrella: one quiet, one outgoing, one social, one homebodied…and so on. The bond however, between sibling are the kind of thing that often can only be described accurately by the other half. You’re lucky if you end up with a sibling you can get along with, even remotely. Or you’re paired with one who seems to have been born solely to serve as your opposition. Either way, it gets complicated on that little island between family and friendship.
The novel Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz is about two sisters. Beena and Sadhana grew up 2 years apart in an apartment above their family-owned bagel shop in Montreal. Beena and Sadhana’s life is plagued with tragedies right from the beginning. Their father dies suddenly when they are young children. Then their mother’s passes away when both are still teenagers, leaving them orphaned and under the guardianship of their uncle. After her death, the sisters both begin divergent paths into adulthood. Sadhana develops severe anorexia, while Beena is faced with an unexpected pregnancy at 16. Both sisters become glued together in solace, though this takes turns as being both a blessing and a strain on their relationship. The novel opens with the revelation of Sadhana’s death at 32 and her sister Beena’s search for meaning in it’s wake. The present-day is a platform for flashback into the sisters’ lives as we come to understand every little bit about their unique and rich familial history.
Bone and Bread follows the ebb and flow of a life-lived between sisters. It encapsulates the need for connection and the desperation for space, the speculative jealousy of other relationships, and the unconditional loyalty that runs alongside unavoidable spite. It is the constant connecting and pulling apart between two separate pieces.
Beena and Sadhana’s story really grabs a hold of you by the exquisite depth of emotional history layered throughout the novel. I feel like I’ve known these two women my whole life. Saleena Nawaz’s writing and use of metaphor is especially wonderful. She has a way of salting the lives of the characters that is worth all the hours in bed with sore eyes for my inability to put this novel down.