Friday, May 15, 2009

'Mother Superior'

by Saleema Nawaz
Fiction/Short Stories, 2008
Freehand Books, trade pb, 287 p.
A prostitute takes shelter with a group of young anarchists. A sister goes missing, mailing a trail of encoded postcards from destinations across the globe. The daughters of a Montreal bagel-shop owner navigate the tricky terrain of being young, Sikh, and female, one growing larger while the other fades. A precocious child spies on her adoptive mother, trying to grasp the secret of her mother’s hidden obsession and of her own unexplained origins.
The seven stories and two novellas in Mother Superior are a heady blend of misfits and mothers, of sisters and mysterious others. Nawaz traces the scars left by family secrets and sings the complex, captivating language of lust and of love.
These are the stories of mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and their complicated relationships. Sometimes with a collection of stories by a single author, they can start to feel repetitive if read too closely one after the other. But even though these stories all pretty much deal with women and relationships, they were all different, each one engaging and complete, and I never felt I was reading the same thing over and over. Sure, there were one or two stories I didn’t care for quite as much, as is often the case with a book of short stories, but even in those ones I stopped sometimes to admire the writing or the very real emotions being portrayed.

My favourites were My Three Girls and The White Dress. The first is about sisters and loss and the past haunting the present. The latter story is about a young girl trying to understand her adoptive mother’s strange moods and sadness, and coming to realize why some people treat her so differently. I thought the author did a lovely job capturing the thoughts of a child in this one. The characters in all the stories came vividly to life and they all felt very realistic, making me care for them and think about them long after I’d read about these moments in their lives.

An impressive debut, these stories were very well crafted and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Saleema Nawaz is currently working on a novel, and I very much look forward to reading more by her in the future.
Final verdict: Wonderful, touching stories by an author to watch.

Read an excerpt from 'My Three Girls'
Interview with Saleema Nawaz
Q&A with Saleema Nawaz
Review in Quill & Quire
Saleema Nawaz's blog

Thank you to Mini Book Expo and Freehand Books for the opportunity to read this book.

First sentence: (Mother Superior) Joan won't get an abortion.

My Rating: 4/5
(#29 for 2009, 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge (Relative), ARC Reading Challenge)


  1. I think I will check it out. Sounds like a god book.

  2. Sounds like a good collection. I am always on the lookout for interesting short stories to read!

  3. I definitely want to read this one. I just finished "L'education d'une fee" by Didier van Cauwelaert. Such a wonderful novel but not translated in English as far as I know, some other novels are so.

    I hope you have a nice week ahead Nat, and that all is well in your corner of the world

  4. Sounds interesting! I am not a big short story person, though. I see you are reading 'No Great Mischief'. It is embarrassing how long I have owned that book and still not read it!

  5. I really enjoyed your review and I'm going to have to read this short story collection!! Thanks!!

  6. gautami tripathy - I hope you enjoy it too if you get a chance to read it.

    Kim L - I do enjoy short stories sometimes and this really was a good collection.

    Sylvie - You're not supposed to tease me with books that aren't available in English! ;)
    Thanks, things are going to get quite busy from now until we move but otherwise everything is fine. Hope all is well with you!

    Kailana - I've had this copy of No Great Mischief for a few years but I guess it was finally time to read it. I still have some other books that I've had for ages but haven't read yet, so I can relate. Someday!

    Staci - Thanks, I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did.

  7. I was thinking just the other day that I haven't read any short story collections this year yet, and that I really should do something about that. This sounds like an excellent one.

  8. oups, I must have missed a post, where are you moving to, within Japan or to some other country? I hope it is a good thing you are looking forward to.


  9. That sounds really interesting. Like K above I'm not a big short story person, but I may have had a little conversion now.

  10. This sounds like a pretty solid collection of shorts. I added it to my TBR.

  11. Nymeth - I haven't read too many short stories yet this year either, and I really enjoyed these.

    Sylvie - We're just moving to a different area of Tokyo. I'm not looking forward to the packing and moving part of it but the new area is much greener so that'll be nice. :)

    Jodie - I know not everyone likes short stories, and some of these did leave me wondering what happened to the characters after the story ended, but in a good way.

    Teddy Rose - I hope you enjoy this collection as much as I did.


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