Saleema Nawaz on Bone & Bread

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First aired on All in a Weekend (24/03/13)

Saleema Nawaz's debut novel is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the spring season, and the Montreal author dropped by All in a Weekend recently to talk about the book. Bone & Bread centres on two sisters, Beena and Sadhana, who grow up above a bagel shop in Mile End, a Montreal neighbourhood.

Nawaz was born and raised in Ottawa, but has lived in Montreal for a number of years. She chose to set Bone & Bread there in part because "you can write about a place you live in with a lot of assurance." She also told host Sonali Karnick that she wanted the novel to be "a love letter to Montreal."


In the novel, Beena and Sadhana's father is a Sikh immigrant from India who buys a bagel shop because he believes it's a good business opportunity. As the result of a series of tragedies, the girls end up being cared for by their uncle, who runs the shop. The sisters were extremely close, growing up. But at the beginning of the novel, we learn that Sadhana has recently died, alone in her Montreal apartment, from complications of anorexia. In the course of the narrative, Beena looks back over their life together, and tries to figure out how they grew apart and what was at the root of her sister's eating disorder.

Nawaz herself is an only child, but she didn't have any difficulty imagining what an intense bond between sisters would be like. Part of what she wanted to explore was "the way that relationships in families sort of become fossilized," she said. "You know, 'oh, she's the pretty one, she's the outgoing one.'" People get stuck with a label that doesn't take into account other aspects of their personality, she pointed out.

Nawaz went on to say that Sadhana's eating disorder had complicated the sisters' relationship. When she's struggling with the disease, Beena takes care of her, but eventually Beena becomes somewhat resentful of "this never-ending job of taking care of her sister." Nawaz first wrote about the sisters in a short story called Bloodlines. But the novel represents the end of the line because there aren't enough characters left, she said.

Even before Bone & Bread hit bookstores, the novel was garnering lots of buzz and advance critical praise. When asked how that made her feel, Nawaz said it was "what every writer dreams about," and "an amazing opportunity for the novel to find its readers." But she also acknowledged that "when you're sitting in your pajamas at home on your couch writing for hours and hours for years and years, you're not really thinking about the final product and people reading it and judging you, and judging the book. So it's a little scary too."

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