Shortlisted For The Singapore Literature Prize For FictionShortlisted For The Singapore Book Award For FictionFinalist For The Epigram Books Fiction PrizePin Must Not Become Like Her Mother, But Nobody Will Tell Her Why She Seeks Clues In Ma S Cooking When She S Not Fighting Other Battles Being A Bursary Girl At An Elite School And Facing Racial Taunts From The Bus Uncle Then Her Meddlesome Grandmother Moves In, Installing A Portrait Of A Watchful Sikh Guru And A New Set Of House Rules Old Secrets Begin To Surface But Can Pin Handle Learning The Truth A poignant depiction of growing up Punjabi Sikh in 1990 s Singapore The theme of the missing parent occurs in this novel just as it did in Bali Kaur s novel Inheritance I found the descriptions of the painting of the Guru amusing, especially how Pin, the novel s protagonist describing his facial features changing depending on the general atmosphere in her house It brought back memories of school life and the Byzantine icons of Jesus in the classrooms looking either stern or angry depending on the general nature of the students in the classroom a very funny memory actually. About 3.5 stars, but not quite 4 Much of this has to do with the typical narrative structure of this book This is about ten year old Pin going on eleven growing up Sikh in late 80s, early 90s multicultural Singapore It s a coming of age tale that has at its heart family secrets, relationships between women, sexism, religion, tradition vs modernity, and the meaning of food In many ways, it has all the tropes of realist fiction set in these parts or in and around Asia the 3.5 stars is less about the book and about my weariness with this particular narrative I m sort of tired of the family secrets learning about oneself through a series of events that hint at a hidden trauma and resolved by the end type thing The ending is moving and hopeful, but also predictable and has the usual tinge of redemption for all I think she wrote the final chapter with grace, without sentimentality, but the whole arc of the book is still somewhat predictable There are occasional moments of humour that are very well done, dry and deadpan, and I did wish there was of that.Having said that, it s a well written book that highlights the life of a minority and the casual racism that s prevalent in Southeast Asia, and it was a nostalgic read for me because it reminded me of the Malaysia I grew up in I think something crucial about this is not just the outsider status Pin and her family have because of their race and religion, but also because of class So even though Singapore has the status of an advanced economy, this book is worlds apart from those Kevin Kwan books about which the less said, the better It shows you what life is like when you re a have not in a have all economy Definitely recommended if the subject interests you and if you would like to know what Singapore is like for its minorities. In addition to being a compelling and empathetic portrayal of a young Punjabi Sikh girl growing up in Singapore in the 1990s, Sugarbread is also a celebration of women, and it doesn t shy away from the complicated relationships between them Each of the main female characters Pin, her mother Jini, and her grandmother Kulwant Nani ji are evoked with such affection that it s hard to believe after finishing the book that they are fictional Jaswal does not shy away from showing us how flawed and human they are, and the small and not so small tragedies that they suffer through, as well as the triumphs that make the reader let out woots of joy.All of this, plus an examination of Singapore s endemic racism, especially toward its South Asian community Pin has to brook taunts by Bus Uncle, an old man who collects money from the students on the school bus and attempts, and fails, to keep order , as well as vile comments from classmate Abigail Goh Pin s outrage and how she deals with these encounters do to illustrate how the Chinese majority tends to treat South Asians and Malays than a hundred Racial Harmony Days This casual racist bullshit has consequence, and Pin s endurance of it is a social justice punch right to the gut.Sugarbread is an important book, especially right now, when it seems that public policy seems to be regressing in the wake of LKY s death last year And while I can t claim that the novel would eradicate racism in Singapore if it were assigned to schoolchildren here, I do believe that it could easily become Singapore s To Kill a Mockingbird. This was pretty hard to read during my lunch break She transports you so well to her Singapore, a Singapore that I don t really know, in such an evocative and immersive way that you look up and you re confused why you re sitting in your office with a lunch box I enjoyed her other book, Inheritance, but found this one better. Here s another case of a book that I couldn t bring myself to finish In this case, I m willing to believe that it s me, not the book I got about halfway through and felt like this book was hitting a lot of story beats that I ve read before I started this as mental prep for a southeastern Asia trip that I m leaving for soon, and I think I d still recommend it for that purpose, but I ve read so much other similar stuff recently that I just got impatient.This book is told from two points of view One is Pin, a young Sikh Singaporean student in the 1990 s Pin s grandmother comes to live with them, even though the grandmother has long been estranged from her daughter, Pin s mother Tensions get higher in a home that was already tense Pin struggles with how her religion should be a part of her life, how to relate to a mother who is sad and withdrawn, how to be herself in a society that has very strict ideas for how a girl should be.The next point of view is Pin s mother, Jini, when Jini is a teenager herself Jini s father has pretty much left the family and her older brother supports them with his military paycheck The family also has a developmentally disabled brother who is about 6 years old Jini tries to take on a lot of responsibility, but she is left on her own a lot because of a mother who is depressed, a father who has abdicated his family responsibilities, and an older brother who is working She takes care of her younger brother, whom she adores.So, part of the story is leading up to a tragedy for Jini, a tragedy that is in the past for Pin, who doesn t know much about her parents history I skipped ahead to see if this tragedy is what I thought it would be, and it mostly is It s a familiar theme of how women are abused in a rigid and patriarchal society, especially when they don t have men as protectors While I enjoyed reading the book reasonably well, when I put it down about halfway through I found myself impatient with the story and not wanting to pick it up again If you re in the mood for a book about Sikhism in Singapore something I know little about and are okay with a book that s about the feel than the plot, this might be great for you I just either needed something a bit immersive or time to finish the book in one or two readings so that I wasn t drawn out of the story. This novel is sensitively written, and raises important issues subtly racism and racialization religiosity and its relation to identity patriarchal values class and the intersection of Christianity and capitalism in the wonderful speech about spiritual bank accounts All the characters have depth and complexity and the two layers of the narrative the experiences of Pin and of her mother Jini are skilfully blended There are some beautiful descriptive passages, and I like the way in which metaphors are used sparingly, but to good effect Philip Holden, editor of Writing Singapore and Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015 judge Pin is an earnest and enchanting child, through whose curious and clear sighted eyes we see family life and complications and childhood cliques and racism But this entertaining book also has touching insights into love, hope and wisdom, and characters that will stay with you long after you finish it Ovidia Yu, author of Aunty Lee s Chilled Revenge This is the most glorious mic drop moment in Singaporean Literature Sugarbread is such a tender and powerful response to the many celebrated voices in Singapore that represent minority experiences through tokenism or ignore them altogether Balli Kaur Jaswal has made me feel like my ten year old self could be someone s protagonist, like my skin belongs in the pages of books in my country She s turned the mirrors on Singapore and our conversations about identity in a spectacular fashion Her prose is delicate, precise and aching Her storytelling lingers with you for days This novel is triumphant and absolutely essential reading for anyone who cares about living in this city Pooja Nansi, author of Love is an Empty Barstool Sugarbread is the story of a ten year old Sikh girl in Singapore and her relationship with her family members and God whose picture hangs on the wall of her home Jaswal draws up the characters of the novel so clearly that the reader can picture them in their minds while reading her book The protagonist Pin, navigates her everyday life at home, school and the playground being aware of her status as a racial minority on the island nation She has a troubled relationship with markers of her own Sikh identity such as the kara mandatory steel bangle , her long hair and the temple food Relationships of power and privilege related to race, class and gender clearly come out as the story progresses Sad and ugly stories are revealed to her from her mother s past She is aware that she is growing up in a Singapore that is vastly different from the one her mother grew up in And although they are still poor and she is a bursary girl at school, she will not be forced to drop out from school like her mother This book is a must read for anyone who desires to understand Jat Sikh lives in Singapore from the 1960s to the present day It makes one realise how a community can live trapped in their century old traditions even while residing in a country that represents an epitome of modernistic development. This is such a great local young adult novel, i m really surprised it hasn t been marketed as such Sensitively written and universally appealing without compromising on the particularities of growing up as part of a tiny, sometimes close minded minority community in Singapore, Sugarbread tells the story of Pin and her family with compulsion, sincerity and grace Jaswal does a superb job of writing a complex young character with agency, who s developing and learning as her life unfolds I m a bit of a sucker for stories that tie emotions to food and its preparations, and this one certainly delivered on that front as well Sugarbread, like Inheritance before it, confronts painful and difficult aspects of our existence head on I was in tears by the end of it, for many reasons, but mainly because we so sorely need stories like these, that emphasise love, fortitude and forgiveness in the face of all the ugliness that the Singapore Punjabi Sikh community loves hiding in our closets A novel like this would ve changed my life at 18, and i can only imagine how much potential it has to strike a chord with young people now that it s out there in the world. Sugarbread is a touching and simple story of a Sikh girl living in Singapore in the 1990s This book is totally out of my comfort zone but I warmed up to it one page at a time The struggles of poverty , casual racism and burden of the past isn t easy on the shoulders of the teenage protagonist Parveen Kaur AKA Pin Her struggles to understand God and her strong belief in her mother is so real Sugarbread is an easy read and good for new residents of Singapore who wonder what the city country looked like before it s swanky avatar.