I don’t have a sister, but most of my friends do. I have friends whom I consider sisters, and I have felt at times envious of their bonds, and at times ashamed that I pretend at having them. Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz (House of Anansi Press, 2013) gave me a glimpse into that world I won’t ever be able to know as an only child, and for that I am truly grateful.
The story is of two sisters growing up above their family’s bagel-shop in Mile End in Montreal. After losing their parents, they are saddled with their distant and disapproving uncle as a guardian. While one sister expands, eventually giving birth to a son at 16, the other begins to disappear.
Nawaz explores things that are so familiar to me – the streets of Montreal and their inherent linguistic tensions, having a hippy for a mother, nutritional yeast on popcorn, and being unbearably awkward around boys – but enough removed that I saw them in a whole new way. Unlike so many other books about women and food, this one does not beat the reader about the head with it, which is beyond refreshing. Instead of the characters’ relationships with food coming in as an outside force against which they struggle, it’s this omni-present thing that they live with as close as the air is on your skin.
There are not enough good things to say about this book. The characters feel like real people – like people you already know. The fact that the story is largely set in a place I call home probably helped, but there is definitely enough here to keep anyone with a soul glued to the page for the duration.