Side by Side


a novel by Anita Kushwaha

Print: 978-1-77133-545-4 – $22.95
Accessible ePUB: 978-1-77133-546-1 – $11.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-548-5 – $11.99

286 Pages
October 25, 2018

SKU: N/A Categories: , , Tag:

Winner, 2019 IPPY Silver Medal for
Multicultural Fiction

Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents’ uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman’s journey from harm to care.

“Anita Kushwaha’s book Side by Side is a compelling and beautifully written novel that draws you from page to page with lyrical, brave and heart-wrenching prose. Vivid and powerful imagery make it feel as though you are alongside the characters sipping ginger tea, savouring curry and samosas, strolling the foggy streets of London and hiking the autumnal trails of Gatineau Park. The novel also explores the intense relationship between siblings and the aching and longing for that brother or sister after they are gone. How does one go on after a tragedy? With humanity and empathy, Kushwaha dares us to reach into the deepest recesses of the mind as we stand ‘side by side’ with Kavita who shares her grief with us. Throughout the novel, Kushwaha shows herself to be a writer with incredible storytelling gifts. A must-read for anyone going through or wanting to understand the process of bereavement. ”

— Sonia Saikaley, author of A Samurai’s Pink House and The Lebanese Dishwasher

“If a family member is killed in a car accident, is shot or stabbed or poisoned, or succumbs to cancer, we can blame the other driver, the murderer, carcinogens or whatever we wish to blame. But whom do we blame when our brother kills himself? Side by Side takes us on a journey into the soul of an immigrant Indian family through the dead man’s sister, Kavita, as she struggles with not only her own grief but that of her parents. Her marriage teeters on the edge of its own death, too, as she attempts to work her way through the stages of grief ten times over. Anita Kushwaha has the enviable ability to bring characters to life, to invite the reader to become part of Kavita’s family, to grieve, to hope and cry and smile along with them while any cultural veil that might hang between the reader and the family dissolves into butterflies.”

—Sherrill Wark, author of Graven Images and The Kesk8a Series

Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Human Geography from Carleton University, and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the Humber School for Writers, for which she was awarded the Bluma and Bram Appel Scholarship. She is the author of a novella, The Escape Artist , which was published in 2015. She lives in Ottawa.

One day, the police inspector rang their doorbell. He was holding a white plastic bag. Her thoughts shot to the white plastic bag Sunil had given her, the one full of sleeping pills, the one she had gotten rid of. While rationally she knew that the white plastic bag in the inspector’s hand was a different white plastic bag, knowing this didn’t stop her insides from reacting with panic. “The rest of your brother’s belongings,” he told her. What he said after that, she couldn’t remember.

Back in her room, she knelt by her bed and laid out his things with the care of an archivist handling lost treasures.

His wallet—curved, worn brown leather, a graduation present. Car and house keys held together on the plastic Taurus keychain she got him from a Hallmark store years ago. And his cell phone.

His cell phone. The repository of their pleas. She picked it up. It was off. Had it been off the whole time? Was the battery dead? Before turning it on, she hesitated. It doesn’t matter, she thought. It doesn’t change anything. Stop torturing yourself. But reasonable thoughts were easily overruled by her beastly need to know. She pressed the power button. It flickered to life. Which probably meant it had been off the whole time.

25 missed calls, she read, heart sinking.

5 new messages.

The glare of knowing began to sting her eyes.

This meant that while they were reaching out to him, Sunil had remained fixed on his plan. She had an answer now, and it proved her earlier assertion to be correct. The answer didn’t matter, it didn’t change anything, and it certainly didn’t make her feel any closer to closure. All Kavita felt was torture at the hands of a past she couldn’t alter.

She deleted the messages. They served no purpose anymore. She didn’t need to hear their pleas, veiled with false cheer and calm, as they gently tried to ease Sunil home. She relived the futility of that helpless time enough as it is. She would never forget it.

Once the voicemail was empty, she dialled his number. The voicemail message was the only place the sound of his voice existed anymore. They weren’t like other families who videotaped every event, momentous and mundane. The idea of spending money on a camcorder seemed like a frivolous waste to her frugal immigrant parents, who sacrificed everything—including trips back to India for births, wedding, and even funerals—to save for Sunil and Kavita’s educations. Pushing down a violent surf of grief, she dilated her eardrums and listened, her heartbeat a slow throb in her throat. “This is Sunil,” he said. “Leave me a message and have a good one.”

His voice—easygoing, healthy, alive—vacuumed to her hollow centre, where spun against her insides, like a cold wind twisting against the walls of a cave, with nothing to break it, nowhere for it to escape.

Next came the beep and she hung up.

On Thanksgiving she drove up to Gatineau Park to see the hawks, one of their Thanksgiving traditions, a favourite of Sunil’s. She followed the road that sliced through the hills surrounded by mixed forest on either side, so dense and lush it was almost possible to forget the fetters of urban life in the deep green of pine needles and the rose tone of cliffs. Every now and then, the trees would clear, revealing a small dark pond or cattail-hemmed marshland. At one point, she thought she spotted a beaver, but then again it might have been a deadhead bobbing in the water.

She parked in the grass alongside the road a few minutes away from Champlain Lookout. The trails were always frenzied during the holiday. Everywhere she looked there were families; small ones, big ones, some with dogs, others with strollers, others still with coolers and cameras, although considerably more with camera phones.

She wanted to hate them. Their togetherness and full bellies and smiles and laughter and posing for group photos and the fact that they had things to be thankful for. Since Anchor and Blaze and Black Gloom had colonized her insides, she could remember only distantly what gratitude felt like. Something like a long breath of relief exhaled skyward, the gentle sag into a loved one’s arms, the happy idiot feeling of luck. She wanted to hate the other families for showing off.

But she couldn’t. She knew they weren’t to blame.

“You should be here watching the hawks,” she said to Sunil.

But you were too slow, said Anchor as it pulled. You let him down. The sinking feeling spread.

Black Gloom slowly crushed her from crown to toe and she wondered how it was possible that she could be simultaneously sitting and flattened on the car mats.

Then she felt them all mixing together. Anchor and Blaze and Black Gloom, all at once, like a maelstrom—heavy, feverish, thick—churning under her skin. She couldn’t hold them. She wanted them out.

She lit a cigarette, sucked in a long drag, and butted it out on her palm, pressing its molten tip into the place along her lifeline where everything had gone wrong. A yowl spurted up her throat like bile, sharp and scathing as her wound, but she stoppered it in her throat, where it shook. Guilty people didn’t deserve to scream. They hadn’t earned the right. With a pulsing stare, she focused on the pain—hot, deep, sharp. That pain she could manage. That pain she knew she deserved.

Then she gagged the yowling welt with tissues and climbed
out of the car. Hiked up to the crowded lookout point. Slipped into an opening along the curved stone wall and let the panoramic view calm her breath. To the right were the rolling hills of the Eardley Escarpment, which from a distance, resembled sleeping Vishnu covered in mosses. She admired the pines and cedars, as verdant as coriander chutney, and leafy trees, vibrant with shades of turmeric and saffron and paprika. Below, a steep drop gave way to farmland that marked the landscape like earth-toned Hippie patchwork cloth. Straight ahead in the distance, the Ottawa River trenched through the land, gleaming.

And above, the soaring hawks, like kites, only freer because they had no cords to bind them to the ground.

“That’s why you loved them,” she said to Sunil. He envied them. Maybe he even wanted to be one of them.

A dark-haired woman with a green Tilley hat beside her said, “Pardonnez-moi?

Kavita glanced at her and left.

14 reviews for Side by Side

  1. Renée Knapp

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by Claire Huston
    Art and Soul – January 25, 2019

    The blurb: Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel.

    In the wake of tragedy, if a fresh start is possible for Kavita? Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy

    My take: From reading the blurb, you’ll appreciate this isn’t an easy read. Side by Side is an unflinching look at loss and, more specifically, survivor’s guilt and the maelstrom of emotions experienced when losing a loved-one to suicide.

    However, this is not a depressing book. The story is structured in three acts entitled Fall, Crawl and Rise. As this makes clear, while you’ll reach a point where things look rather bleak for the main character they do eventually start to get better. And although the story is tough, it is definitely worth sticking with, as it’s wonderful to see how Kavita grows through her darkest moments of grief and emerges stronger and wiser.

    The reason the story is tough is that we empathise entirely with Kavita. She is always doing her best and struggles on bravely after her brother’s death even though she is virtually abandoned by everyone we would expect to help and support her. I knew the story had won me over wholeheartedly to her side when, at about halfway through, she goes on a short trip to London and I found myself wanting to climb into the book and shake people who were behaving like inconsiderate idiots towards her!

    This is an important story. Although work is being done by various individuals and organisations to raise public awareness of mental illness and suicide in a laudable effort to remove the stigma and misunderstanding around both, there is still a lot to be done before we treat those suffering from mental illnesses with as much compassion as those with physical illnesses. Particularly shocking in this story is the lack of consideration shown by those in the medical profession which, from anecdotal evidence merely from those I know who have had similar issues, is often all too true. The apparent callousness of Kavita’s family and friends is also sadly believable. In this way, the book is also a valuable reminder of how little kindness and sympathetic listening cost, but how invaluable they can be to those who need them.

    Overall: Side by Side is a compelling story containing a great deal of wisdom about grief and learning to live with loss. 4/5 stars.

  2. Renée Knapp

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    The Miramichi Reader – June 20, 2019

    According to the Government of Canada website, every day, an average of more than 10 Canadians dies by suicide. For every person lost to suicide, many more experience thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts. For every death by suicide, at least 7 to 10 survivors are significantly affected by the loss. For Kavita Gupta, the protagonist of Anita Kushwaha’s award-winning novel Side by Side, it is the loss of her brother Sunil that has affected her and her parents. Sunil had long been suffering from mental health issues, and it was always Kavita who coaxed him along, trying to get her beloved brother back on track. Despite her best efforts, he goes missing and is found dead days later from an overdose of pills and alcohol. Kavita is left wondering if she could have done more. Guilt consumes her every moment, day and night.

    However, the real tragedy of Sunil’s suicide is the effect it has on each member of the Gupta family. Each grieves in their own way, causing them to turn away from each other rather than drawing together at such a time. Her mother retreats to Sunil’s bedroom to mourn, the father to his own room, leaving Kavita to deal with the paperwork and details of his funeral and so on. It all gets to be too much for Kavita and she starts self-harming in order to control her emotions.

    Digging her nails deeply into her palm, Kavita focuses on the sharp pain, the captive heat burning in her flesh that won’t know the release of broken skin. This pain she can handle. This pain she knows she deserves.

    At the funeral, the family, along with Kavita’s husband Nirav is brought into the room where Sunil’s closed coffin resides.

    At first sight of it, Kavita’s legs feel boneless. She gropes for Nirav’s arm. They are told to take as long as they wish before the funeral director shuts them inside the dreadful room. If there is a moment when Kavita’s heart breaks irreparably, it then, as she witnesses her parents break right before her eyes.

    Her mother runs her hands along the casket in a stupor, as though trying to see Sunil’s body through the wood grain. At his feet, she pauses. Slowly drapes herself over the casket. Kisses his feet in an act of prostration, supplication. Her weeping echoes against the vaulted ceiling, echoes inside Kavita’s hollow middle, the awful sound spreading cracks along her veins. Her skin is the only thing keeping her together.

    Her father delicately lays flowers on the coffin lid above Sunil’s heart, places one hand over his head, and gently strokes the mahogany, as though stroking Sunil’s brow, like he did on the nights Sunil had trouble sleeping when he was a child. His shoulders begin to shake. “My baby,” he whispers. “My boy.”

    Oh Sunil, Kavita whispers as the first tears crest. What have you done to yourself? My poor Bear. Look what you’ve done to yourself.

    Into the coffin, she sends a stream of regret. You’ll never marry the woman of your dreams. Or have children. Or teach them to skip stones. You’ll never meet your nieces and nephews. Or hear them call you Sunil mama. And they’ll never know their uncle…

    She stops. The coffin is too small to contain all the dreams that should have been, had he lived.

    In the days ahead, Kavita is tormented by her self-named emotions of Anchor, Blaze and Black Gloom, all doing their part to break Kavita down. The worst is yet to come when she travels with Nirav back to London to visit his family after his grandmother dies. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide, Nirav has never told his family about Sunil. Inevitably, Kavita is asked about him.

    And how about your brother?” Nisha Auntie goes on. How is Sunil?”

    Although Kavita hears the words, she doesn’t understand their meaning, as though Nisha Auntie has suddenly switched to Bengali. She must have misheard.

    “I’m sorry?”

    “Your brother,” Nisha Auntie repeats. “How is his health? Will he be marrying soon? I know some nice girls.”

    Before Kavita has a chance to respond, a hand claws her elbow and thrusts her out of the room. In the solitude of the foyer, Mrs. Stone [Nirav’s mother] whispers deeply into her ear, “No one knows about him. “

    Side by Side is so well crafted that the reader distinctly perceives Kavita’s horror every step of the way. She is dragged down slowly by so many emotions and circumstances that we wonder how Kavita can go on. Plus the fact that all her loved ones – in particular, her husband – who should be supportive, are anything but. Inevitably, a marital rift occurs between her and Nirav.

    This was truly a book that I found hard to put down at night. It is not surprising that it won a silver medal at the IPPY awards for Multicultural Fiction. I am putting it on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Fiction.

  3. Renée Knapp

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    Lit and Life – July 1, 2019


    I’m certain that when I was pitched this book, the ladies at TLC Book Tours made sure to tell me it was about an Indian family (they know me so well!) plus the book is largely set in Canada (and I do love to find great books from Canadian authors). The truth of the matter is, though, that this book is about a part of life that is universal. Kavita’s heritage, the country she lives in, are just parts of the story but her grief is without country or heritage.

  4. Renée Knapp

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    Literary Quicksand – July 2, 2019


    Anita Kushwaha, is incredibly expressive and writes with her heart on her sleeve. Many of her descriptions of how Kavita feels in the depths of her grief were so visceral – sad but so beautiful.

  5. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by Simply Kelina (Blog Tour) – July 3, 2019


    I was not expecting to fall in love with this story as much as I did…Overall, this really surprised me and I definitely recommend it. 4/5 stars.

  6. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by Helen’s Book Blog (Blog Tour) – July 4, 2019


    I do think the book does a great job of showing the anguish of surviving a loved one’s suicide… really liked the ending few pages of the book. Nothing is fixed or perfect, but there is hope. 4/5 stars.

  7. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by megsbookclub (Blog Tour – Instagram) – July 5, 2019


    In Side by Side, Anita Kushwaha writes so well that you really feel for her characters…after you read this one you will want to hug everyone you love.

  8. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by From the TBR Pile (Blog Tour) – July 8, 2019


    The story is beautifully written, raw and honest. There may be some triggers for suicide and mental health, so keep that in mind. I do recommend checking it out. I am looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.

  9. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by pieladybooks (Blog Tour – Instagram) – July 9, 2019


    This beautifully written book takes a whole new approach at looking at grief as one woman experiences the various levels of it…I think while this book contains triggers, its deeper look at healing could be helpful for someone who is battling loss…

  10. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by libraryinprogress (Blog Tour – Instagram) – July 12, 2019


    I think that this could be an important read for those that have experienced the loss of a loved one, especially suicide survivors.

  11. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by What is That Book About (Blog Tour) – July 14, 2019


    I found this book a true blessing in my life right now. I found it extremely comforting and Kavita’s journey a real help to my own grieving process. Overall, the book was a beautiful gift of words that will move and resonate with those who can relate. The vulnerability and authenticity of Kavita and her family allow us an unspoken invitation to their lives to experience their journey that I’m sure will leave a memorable impression beyond reading this book. This was a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend reading.

  12. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    The Minerva Reader – September 6, 2019

    I admit I was a little wary of reading this book because suicide is something we are all too familiar with – many of us have lost people in our lives, have had friends or family who have committed suicide and it’s true that the grief never goes away. The grief changes, and this book is a thoughtful and beautiful examination of that journey. The book is a homage to those who died too soon and to those who live in the shadow of that loss.

  13. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by Sonia Saikaley
    Ottawa Review of Books – December 6, 2019

    Have you ever felt completely drawn to a story to the point that you imagine being there with the characters, especially the protagonist? Anita Kushwaha’s award-winning novel Side by Side is one such story that draws you from page to page with its lyrical, brave and heart-wrenching prose.

    Side by Side isn’t always an easy read. It deals with a very difficult topic: suicide. The novel explores the intense relationship between siblings and the aching and longing for that brother or sister after they are gone. How does one go on after such a tragedy? Can you go on? There are times when you want to cry, want to walk away from Kavita’s escalating pain and anxiety but the excellence of the writing and the ability of Kushwaha to make you trust her is always there, guiding you and reassuring you that it is all right to let yourself feel this pain and grief. It won’t be easy because you’ll be changed. This is what a great novel does – it changes you even if only momentarily. It makes you feel the rawness of the characters’ pain and joy. In Side by Side, Kushwaha invites you to be a part of the family and feel the difficulties faced by the parents and even more so by the sister of the young man who ends his own life.

    The story also tackles the immigrant experience and shows how some immigrants do not make a smooth transition in a new country. When Kavita’s mom says “I’ve wanted to leave this country almost as soon as I arrived. I have never felt at home here,” Kushwaha demonstrates how challenging it can be for some people living in a country that is not their birthplace. These words could also have been spoken from the grief the mother feels after losing her son. Pain can be fluid; it reminds you of other heartaches or disappointments. Throughout the novel, Kushwaha shows herself to be a writer with incredible storytelling gifts because she uses this fluidity to exhibit what it means to be human. Emotions collide with vivid and powerful imagery making you feel as though you are alongside the characters sipping ginger tea, savouring curry and samosas, strolling the foggy streets of London and hiking the autumnal trails of Gatineau Park.

    Along with the beauty of the landscape and how the novel brilliantly depicts the food and rich culture of India, the sorrow in this book leaves you asking yourself: what would you do if a loved one ended his or her life? Kushwasha should be applauded for undertaking such a difficult and heartbreaking but important topic. There is a sad and moving scene where Kavita is with her parents and husband and they are discussing who to tell about her brother’s death. Kavita wants to tell people the truth that her brother committed suicide but the mother doesn’t want to. She wants to say that Sunil died in a car accident and Kavita says that they shouldn’t be ashamed and her mother replies “No one judges people who die of cancer.” Although society has become more open to discussing mental illness and health issues, there are still some cultures that find these topics taboo and Kushwaha illustrates this remarkably well in her book.

    Kushwaha also shows the tendencies of excluding women in a patriarchal culture. In one scene, Kavita joins her husband’s male relatives in a room after the loss of Kavita’s husband’s grandmother. The men reluctantly offer her a whiskey and when a stranger enters and spots Kavita holding the drink, he glares at her with disgust and says, “That better not be for you.” She sits in silence, not being introduced to the stranger and she wonders if she’s being punished for breaking the customary order of men being in one room and women in another and after a few minutes, she leaves the room quietly. Kushwaha shows how despite the grief Kavita is experiencing, she is not welcomed in the presence of these men.

    Kavita struggles with her grief and her split between cultures throughout the novel, but there is hope too. With humanity and empathy, Kushwaha dares us to reach into the deepest recesses of the mind as we stand ‘side by side’ with Kavita who tries to find the strength and peace to go on after tragedy.

  14. Inanna Admin

    Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha
    reviewed by Susan Belle Ferguson
    Apt 613 – January 29, 2020

    In Side by Side, Anita Kushwaha’s main character Kavita Gupta undergoes an agonizing ordeal surviving guilt and loss as a result of her brother Sunil’s suicide. While she grieves, her fierce loyalty compels her to try to keep her already unraveling family together. To add to her suffering, Kavita is also forced to deal with the stigma surrounding suicide, as well as the painful awkwardness of the “business of death.” As her own support system fails her when she is at her lowest, Kavita seeks out empathy from strangers, and ultimately for a life with meaning.

    “After losing a loved one to suicide, I felt compelled to write a novel that explores the ripple effects and complex grief that only survivors truly understand. Guilt is a large part of this loss like no other,” said Kushwaha.

    Kushwaha cleverly divides Kavita’s journey into three phases: fall, crawl, and rise. Knowing that Kavita would eventually ‘rise’ made it easier to get through some of her more precarious moments. From the outset of the novel, I felt like I was in step with Kavita, becoming infuriated when loved ones betrayed her and rooting for her to take a stand, but ultimately respecting her choices.

    Providing some relief for readers, Kavita possesses a sense of humour, which reveals itself during some of her darkest moments. At one point when talking to the spirit of her late brother Sunil, she asks, “You could at least send me a sign, like, if a seagull shits on me, that means no.”

    Set mainly in Ottawa (where the author lives), Kushwaha’s beautifully-told tale also draws on the Gatineau hills for a poignant locale. While this story is not for the faint of heart, it is a realistic, sensitive account of the impact grief can have on those left behind.

    “If Side by Side is about anything, it’s empathy and connection,” Kushwaha explained. “When Kavita experiences alienation in the wake of her brother’s passing, and virtually every human relationship she has fails her, she finds the empathy and companionship she desperately needs in books, in the experiences of others who have lived through trauma and had the courage to share it. This sense of belonging and recognition is the kind of thing readers understand well. It’s why we read, after all.”

    As someone who has dealt with the loss of a loved one, I know that grief can be paralyzing, brutal, and isolating. However, who you become after you’ve journeyed through that pain can be someone far stronger and more resilient to life’s challenges.

    I commend Kushwaha for creating such a rich character and telling her story with such empathy. Her novel reminds us that we could all show others and ourselves more compassion.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Printed Copy, ePUB, PDF

You may also like…