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‘The Bread the Devil Knead’ by Lisa Allen-Agostini

‘The Bread the Devil Knead’ by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Oiza Cavallari

This is what you call irony, because my whole life was a lie – lie on top of lie.

The Bread the Devil Knead tells the story of Alethea, a 40-year-old, mixed-race woman, who follow as she navigates a dangerous path between her abusive and controlling partner Leo, a failed musician, and the constant sex with her boss that she uses as an escape. Her situation seems to change, however, when she is reunited with her adopted brother, decades after they parted. As a result, memories and family secrets begin to unlock, and we begin to understand how Alethea came to be who she is now. The gradual revelation of secret and past happenings also give us a glimpse into the possible future of Alethea and whether or not she will be likely to be able to heal from all the pain and trauma she has experienced in her life.

The Bred the Devil Knead is set in two different timeframes: in 2005 in Port of Spain, and in flashbacks to the late 60s – when Alethea was still a child. In those flashbacks, we witness the events, leading up to her birth and her childhood, and get intimate insights into the generational trauma in the women in Alethea’s life and family.

Racism, colourism, the sometimes heavy impact of family secrets, child molestation, incest, rape, family dysfunction, domestic abuse, and violence against women are key themes in this story, and heavily contribute to the intense feeling of immersion in an emotional experience while reading this novel.

Reading about the trauma and the lifelong effects it can have on someone’s life was one of the most disturbing and uncomfortable aspects of reading this book, and it truly got under my skin. Alethea’s reluctance to get help or support to escape her dangerous living situation was one of those instances that particularly affected me. The bruises on her skin, which are the result of the almost daily abuse by her boyfriend, and her botched attempts to cover them up with cosmetics, are clearly visible to her colleagues, friends, and passers-by, but even when she is offered help, Alethea continues to decline it. Her attitude towards herself and those people who try to help her deeply disturbed and even annoyed me, but it also led me to think about our general attitudes towards women, our expectations of them, and, most importantly, the extent to which (even as women) we are ready to pass judgement on someone whose shoes we have not walked in.

‘Why you does stay, Miss Allie?’
You know that is the first question people does ask? I hear it from doctor and nurse already, as though by staying I was saying I want to get licks. Nobody doesn’t ask, “why he don’t stop beating you?” As if somehow is a normal thing for a man to beat a woman. Yet it not normal for a woman to stay with a man who beating she? If is the woman fault for staying, not the man fault for lashing she, beating woman come normal then.

The Bread the Devil Knead is not a moralising or even feel-good story. It is a book that will have you feeling breathless and angry, disturbed yet understood. It is honest, raw, and is likely to resonate with a lot of women around the world as it mercilessly exposes what it can mean to be a woman in a world run by men, and what it means to live at the intersection of gender, race, and poverty.

My grandmother lie to the world when she never put we grandfather down on she children birth paper. My grandfather lie when he never claim he only children as he own because he make them with the maid and not his wife. My mother lie when she make up some Venezuela man and say is she husband, say is my father, when is she own brother who bull she and get she pregnant. She lie to me and to she self when she accuse me of taking man when I get pregnant. I was fifteen years. She know it was she own brother child.
Would I want that child?
Would that child even survive?
That would be more than incest. Double incest.

*Thank you Myriad Editions for sending a free digital copy of this book for review.

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