The Bread the Devil Knead

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Longlisted   —Diverse Book Awards2022

Shortlisted   —Women's Prize for Fiction2022

‘A deeply humane story set in Trinidad which immerses the reader and is full of warmth and humour and sadness’. MARY ANN SIEGHART, chair of judges, WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION

‘Extraordinary and emotionally immersive… The powerful themes that emerge are both unpredictable and unforgettable, dealing with the masquerade of everyday love as well as hidden secrets that are the legacy of family.’ MARGARET BUSBY

Alethea Lopez is about to turn 40. Fashionable, feisty and fiercely independent, she manages a boutique in Port of Spain, but behind closed doors she’s covering up bruises from her abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair with her boss. When she witnesses a woman murdered by a jealous lover, the reality of her own future comes a little too close to home.

Bringing us her truth in an arresting, unsparing Trinidadian voice, Alethea unravels memories repressed since childhood and begins to understand the person she has become. Her next step is to decide the woman she wants to be.


The Guardian, Lucy Knight

27 April 2022

Trinidadian standup comedian and writer Lisa Allen-Agostini has made the list with her debut novel. The Bread the Devil Knead, written in Trinidadian patois, is about a woman who is being abused by her partner.

‘You might think [the dialect] would be a little bit offputting,’ said [Mary Ann] Sieghart [chair of judges].  ‘And yet, by about page five, you’re so absorbed in it that you almost stop noticing.’

Sieghart went on to praise Allen-Agostini’s ‘funny’ and ‘very humane book’, noting how reading internationally ‘really broadens our horizons’.

‘I wouldn’t have known what it was like to live with an abusive partner while running a toy shop in Trinidad if I hadn’t read [The Bread the Devil Knead],’ she added. ‘I’ve just learned so much from reading these books.’

The six-strong lineup was whittled down from a longlist of 16 by Sieghart and her fellow judges, the journalist Lorraine Candy, novelist and podcaster Dorothy Koomson, memoirist and critic Anita Sethi and writer and broadcaster Pandora Sykes.

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Chandra Sundeep, Wordsopedia

8 July 2022

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022, The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini is an immersive and harrowing story written in Trinidadian Creole. It’s not an easy read, for it’s a story filled with disturbing (very disturbing) graphic details. Generational trauma, incest, physical and sexual abuse of women and children, colourism, and violent death are the themes repeated often all throughout. But there’s also hope, friendship, and beauty in the story that makes this an unforgettable read.

If you have faced abuse or trauma, I would suggest you pick up this book with caution.

Alethea Lopez, the narrator, is a mixed-race woman living and working in Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital city. She is the manager of a boutique store and lives with Leo, her common-law partner. To the world, she is a feisty and independent woman. But only she knows the bruises she hides under her long-sleeved shirts. Despite being in an abusive relationship for over 5 years, she refuses to leave her partner, constantly hoping that things would get better with time. After a barrage of many lovers, she sees stability in this relationship, ignoring the control, abuse, and trauma.

Even when her friends, adopted brother, and a helpful police officer offer her a way out, she remains indecisive because her upbringing has left her shattered, and with a low sense of self-esteem. Her reluctance to accept the truth of her relationship and denial of the abuse stem from decades of trauma. And one fine day, fate becomes the decision-maker. Dark secrets from the past are revealed that force her to rethink her life.

The entire novel is focussed on Alethea, an independent and sensible woman, with a distinct voice and character. All the while, I was rooting for her to see things as they were. My heart ached at the abuse she was suffering, but she was such a powerful character that not even once did I pity her.

Allen-Agostini’s writing is raw and powerful and brings Alethea’s character to life. While the present is written in first-person narration, the past is in a neutral third-person narration and helps the reader understand Alethea’s horrendous past life and its influence on her present. The author has incorporated the disturbing elements in the story skilfully. These events, though shocking, are extremely vital to readers in understanding Alethea and the choices she makes in a non-judgemental fashion.

There are certain unnecessary details that are repeated, and I felt they added little value to the story.

It took me a while to get used to the Trinidadian Creole, but once I got the hang of it, I was deeply engrossed in the novel. The vernacular touch brings both the setting and the character to life. I think this novel wouldn’t have been this immersive if it was in plain, old English.

The Bread the Devil Knead is a moving story of issues rarely talked about openly. I loved the beautiful and hopeful tone at which Alethea’s story ends (or begins, depending on the way one looks at it!)


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LoveReading Book of the Month

19 April 2021

Written in its unforgettable protagonist’s captivating Trinidadian voice, Lisa-Allen Agostini’s The Bread the Devil Knead is an exceptionally immersive read that resonates with the heart-wrenching rawness of a women’s lifelong abuse at the hands of men, and the seeds of her future liberation. Every perfectly-placed word, every perfectly-formed sentence rings with truth and strikes deep.

Port of Spain boutique manager Alethea is about to turn forty. Thankfully, though, there’s one thing she can count on, “and that is my looks. I going on forty but you would never know it, because every morning and night God spare life I does cleanse and tone and moisturise from head to foot.” But while she has her looks and is philosophical about reaching this life landmark (“is just a number and the face you does see staring back at you in the mirror not as important as the memories in the mind behind it”), the trouble with Alethea is that “most of the memories was bad”, while her present-day life sees her frequently abused by her partner. She finds some solace in the arms of her boss, though, and in books: “This is how I does see the world: by reading books. I does go to London, Hong Kong, Siberia, even, when I read a book. I does meet all kind of people. Learn all kinds of words. Live all kinds of lives. Thank God for books.” Then, when her adopted brother, now a priest, returns after decades away, she begins to take a new path as secrets are laid bare and ways through a dark and tangled forest come to light.

Through Alethea’s complex, damaged character Agostini lays bare complex, potent truths about sexual and violent abuse, racism and colourism. Mixed race and light of skin, she’s subjected to prejudice: “because my skin light colour they feel like I feel I better than them. That is bullshit”, and “People in this island does always surprise to know it have poor white people, but though we skin was light and we hair was straight we wasn’t really white and we didn’t have a penny to we name.” And she also sees that “even after Independence, after Black Power, after all that. Is still a kind of racial, colour-conscious place where people who look like me does get through” while darker skinned people “doesn’t get one shit.

Raw and achingly beautiful, this really is remarkable.

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