The Next Chapter

Saleema Nawaz on mysteries and hometown shout-outs in her debut novel

The Montreal novelist talks about her 2013 novel, a contender for Canada Reads 2016.
Saleema Nawaz's novel Bone and Bread will be defended by activist Farah Mohamed on Canada Reads 2016. (Twitter @pinkmeringue/House of Anansi)

Saleema Nawaz's debut novel, Bone and Bread, is one of five books in the running for Canada Reads this year. The book is about two orphaned and estranged sisters — Beena has just turned 34 when she gets the devastating news that her younger sister Sadhana has died from a heart attack, possibly a complication of anorexia. On Canada Reads, the book will be defended by activist Farah Mohamed.

Shelagh Rogers interviewed Saleema Nawaz in Montreal when the book first came out in 2013.


Ottawa is just so much a part of my life, and there's that ease and convenience in writing about a place you know — you don't need to pore over a map. But I think, too, that the thing about including Ottawa is a statement that this is a place worth writing about. Because I think I was 20 before I read a book set in Ottawa — it was André Alexis's Childhood — and that was really an interesting experience for me, because I could see the streets that I grew up in reflected in the pages of the book. And I thought: Oh, this is a place you can write about! 


From a writer's point of view, [anorexia] is very interesting because it's a mental illness that is visible. It's pain written on the body. And because you can see it, you can describe it. Someone who's outside looking in, like Beena is with her sister, she can read the signs even though her sister isn't talking to her about her illness, and she can see the pain she's in. In this case, in my story, Sadhana definitely is a perfectionist and certainly has some OCD tendencies that play into her disease once she starts going down that route.


I was basically raised on mysteries. It's almost the only genre my mother enjoys, so from as early as I can remember we were watching Mystery! on PBS. So I always sort of wanted to write a mystery, and with Bone and Bread it just seemed to fit, because it's not just trying to uncover the mystery of Sadhana's death, but also the mystery of her illness, and why she had to die and why everything had to happen the way it did.

​Saleema Nawaz's comments have been edited and condensed.