This book was a press product from Cambridge University Press, but all thoughts and opinions within this review are my own.
In this exploration of the meaning of home, Annie Zaidi reflects on the places in India from which she derives her sense of identity. She looks back on the now renamed city of her birth and the impossibility of belonging in the industrial township where she grew up.
From her ancestral village, in a region notorious for its gangster, to the mega-city where she now lives, Zaidi provides a nuanced perspective on forging a sense of belonging as a minority and a migrant in places where other communities consider you an outsider, and of the fragility of home left behind and changed beyond recognition.
When I began Bread, Cement, Cactus I was slightly taken aback by how much Zaidi’s story sounded like a dystopian novel rather than a memoir.
Originally a 3,000 word essay, Bread, Cement, Cactus is Zaidi’s reflection on her home, India, and her identity through the lens of the political, social and economic factors that have moulded contemporary India.
Zaidi recollects on her youth and traces her lineage through the Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh borders. Each chapter is a standalone essay about a setting from her past. It’s a story of migration, belonging and conflict.
The personal and political are interwoven in an emotive and powerful way that leaves you in awe of Zaidi’s journey from extreme disconnected and impoverished childhood to a renowned journalist and author.
Throughout the book, Zaidi breaks down stereotypes such as ‘all Indian’s are vegetarians’ to the fundamental dynamics within that statement that society has control over the food supply to hold power and violence over other people.
It’s beautifully written with Zaidi creating powerful, vivid images throughout.
At the heart of Bread, Cement, Cactus is the fundamental human experience of searching for an individual identity by critiquing the places and people that have shaped you.
It’s a pointed and critical quest to belong and a book that everyone should read.
Zaidi submitted the book as a 3,000 word essay and won the Nine Dots Prize (2019/20) for creative thinking that tackles contemporary social issues.
Bread, Cement, Cactus is available to read free online on Cambridge University Press’ website here.
Read more book reviews here. This post contains aff links.