Have you ever wondered what mood your mother is in, based on the food she cooks? Maybe questioned the existence of God or why different people’s Gods are different? Have you ever thought about the lives of your mother before she got married to your father?… Before she had you?
Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal revolves around a Sikh family in a small apartment in Singapore. Pin (Parveen) the protagonist is a 10 year old girl who lives with her parents in the said small apartment. Apart from going to school, doing her homework, playing with the boys in her locality, going to buy groceries from the market, Pin also spends her time making guesses. She helps her dad take guesses for the lottery and guessing her mother’s mood based on the taste of the food that she cooks; like bay leaves and sour sauces were signs of sophistication, cinnamon sticks a sign of comfort and cumin a sign that her mother was bothered by something. Her family was unlike other Sikh families around them, they cut their hair, hardly ever visited the Gurudwara and didn’t hang a picture of God in their house. But all this changes when her nani (maternal grandmother) moves in with them.
The story is told mostly from the perspective of the 10-year old which will at times come with thoughts that surprise you pleasantly and whose innocence at times will be annoying. Kaur has weaved a story which subtly highlights community norms, patriarchal values, racism and religious identity. Sugarbread walks you down your memories of your own childhood, of how mysterious our parents seemed to be back then. It will remind you of every inquisitive and hyper imaginative kid you may have met or been.
I really enjoyed the descriptions which were used for the city of Singapore, made me miss my own city life and yearn to go up and around different places within it. But my favourite part of the book was a child’s internal monologue on the topic of God – why he doesn’t show himself though many people love him, why animals are tortured if he exists and that he wasn’t hung on their wall because he didn’t match the furniture.
I rate this book 4 bookmarks out of 5 because I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly and I have even started to guess my mom’s mood based on what she’s been cooking lately too but it sure will take some time to understand it properly. This was my second Balli Kaur Jaswal book and I look forwards to reading more of her work! I’d also like to thank Harper Collins India for being very kind and sending me this review copy. The book comes out in India on 10-September and I would highly recommend you do read it! do read it!