Ms Caroline Sng recommends Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
Updated: Jan 23, 2022
Sugarbread is an intergenerational story that centres on food, traditions and family drama in Singapore. The main protagonist is Pin an earnest and innocent child and the story vacillates between the two perspectives of Pin and her mother, Jini. For most of the story, Pin is trying to unravel the hidden secrets behind her family history and try to understand the tensions that exist between her mother and grandmother. She looks for clues through her mother’s cooking and I was swept away by the descriptive use of sensory imagery. Reading those sections really made my mouth water and I enjoyed the parallels Jaswal makes between cooking styles and what it says about a person’s personality. The novel was also wonderful in the way that it explores key social issues in Singapore such as racism, religiosity and sexual harassment. For topics with such levity, Jaswal handles these issues with care and sensitivity and Pin’s innocence and her spritely and sassy demeanour shines through. A poignant moment in the text for example was when Pin had endured racial slurs from her classmate and she had to make an important choice to retaliate or to hold back and in that moment, as a reader I could not help but empathise with Pin and beam with pride as she learns how to manage these tricky and complicated situations. By the end of the novel, as Pin finally gets to the bottom of things and her mother finally opens up to her about past hurts, it is wonderful to see the reconciliation and healing and how the family comes together to strengthen familial bonds. This is a story that is simple at its core; but its message is powerful. It is a story about forgiveness and love and I encourage everyone to read it!