Note: Hardcover Special Edition available only at Engine Books

Body and Bread

Engine Books | May 14, 2013

Years after her brother Sam’s suicide, Sarah Pelton remains unable to fully occupy her world without him. Now, while her surviving brothers prepare to sell the family’s tenant farm and a young woman’s life hangs in the balance, Sarah is forced to confront the life Sam lived and the secrets he left behind. As she assembles the artifacts of her family’s history in East Texas in the hope of discovering her own future, images from her work as an anthropologist — images of sacrifice, ritual, and rebirth — haunt her waking dreams.

In this moving debut novel, Nan Cuba unearths the power of family legacies and the indelible imprint of loss on all our lives.


“Nan Cuba’s prose is clear and lyrical; the voice of her narrator strong, intimate, engaging. She spins her tale without fear and achieves the difficult movements in time necessary to tell the story with grace, effortlessness and skill.”Judge: Miroslav Penkov, PEN Texas


With its careful, heart-wrenching accumulation of the data of grief, Body and Bread demonstrates how we demean life—our own, and the foreshortened lives of those we grieve—by living a half-life, inconsolable. Sarah Pelton goes so far out of her way to avoid the recent past that she propels herself into an ancient culture whose rituals help her excavate the absence with which she has supplanted memory and hope. With its luminous account of a just-vanished family history, its evocation of tragedy’s fragile aftermath, this novel reminds us that surviving is the hardest work of all. We dismiss, dismiss, and then—with a flicker of grace and fledgling gratitude—embrace our imperfect and evanescent second chances.

DEBRA MONROE, author of The Source of Trouble; A Wild, Cold State; Newfangled; Shambles; and On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain

Nan Cuba’s writing is fierce and passionate and intelligent. In Body and Bread she goes straight to the heart of love and death and families and religion and the land, and faces what is puzzling and tormenting about them. There are no received ideas here, none of the usual pabulum we are being spooned in American cultural life. By teasing apart the bewildering complexities of love and spirit, Cuba shows us that while answers are hard to come by, the process of questioning is crucial to what makes us human. Her scenes have a visual brilliance unlike anything on the American scene today. Who else could give us a scene of naked young girls smearing themselves with blood from an ox heart in the perilously overburning engine of a working locomotive, and make the scene immediate, terrifying, and necessary?

GRACE DANE MAZUR, Author of SILK: Stories and TRESPASS: a novel

Body and Bread is, firstly, the story of Sarah Pelton, daughter and sister, for whom the full habitation of her adult self requires the act of breaking through the wall that surrounds her family, and that holds it together. It is a sturdy, long-standing wall, but the conflict of this engaging and passionately exact novel doesn’t just involve the act of destroying it: her struggles also include encountering her own resistance to doing so, and the eventual revelation of what lay hidden behind it. Secondly – though set mostly in Texas – Body and Bread is a personal history of the American age that precedes our own. It is a history told from within Sarah’s unique point of view, yet with a compelling fictional beauty that makes it the story of us all.

CHUCK WACHTEL, author of Joe the Engineer, The Gates, 3/03, Because We Are Here, and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Citation

Body and Bread is a complex tapestry of lives, present and past, that come together to tell one woman’s life. In viewing her life, we are given a bigger story reaching backwards and forward. I learned much about history reading this book. Cuba knows what the wise know; all our lives are interconnected into one common cloth. Here is bread for the spirit written from the heart.

SANDRA CISNEROS, MacArthur Fellow, author of The House on Mango Street, Caramelo, and Loose Woman

In Body and Bread, Nan Cuba has written a wonderful novel packed with superbly impossible characters who skirmish over the great questions of what is passed on and what can ever be left behind. The blood and guts of family life—its quixotic warfare and abiding love–spill out of this remarkable story. A rich and memorable book.

JOAN SILBER, author of Household Words, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, and Ideas of Heaven, finalist for the National Book Award

Nan Cuba is one of those essential writers for whom character and landscape are inextricably intertwined. Sarah Pelton and her difficult family couldn’t live anywhere but Texas and Cuba tells their many layered story with dazzling intelligence and a rare understanding of the forces of self-destruction. A compelling debut.

MARGOT LIVESEY, recipient of Guggenheim and N.E.A. fellowships, author of six novels, including The Flight of Gemma Hardy


“Cuba’s narrative is both humorous and touching, dealing with weighty issues in ways that are thought-provoking rather than preachy. It’s a book well worth reading.”

James R. Adair, April 15, 2013

Voices de la Luna

“Ten Titles to Pick Up Now”
O, The Oprah Magazine
May 2013
Oprah Magazine

“… Cuba’s piercing coming-of-age saga vibrates with youthful yearnings.”

— Carol Haggas, April 8, 2013


Suicide Watch

Body and Bread” is a beautiful examination of family dynamics in the wake of suffering, and the ways that grief continues to shape our lives far beyond the death of a loved one.”

— Pam Johnston, May 5, 2013

San Antonio Express-News

Summer Books: 15 New Releases To Put On Your Reading List

“Years after her brother Sam’s suicide, as her family prepares to sell their farm, anthropologist Sarah Pelton digs into the secrets Sam left behind while attempting to live fully without him.” May 23, 2013

Huffington Post

“Like every person, every family contains contradictions, oppositions. Think of the generally quiet, sober couple who produce a jokester or chatterbox. Or the child who in church looks past her brothers’ and sisters’ bowed heads, searching for fellow doubters. Such contradictions may develop into deep conflicts or become a source of wonder, even pride. Either way, they can be a powerful force; that’s just one truth examined in Nan Cuba’s sweeping, carefully observed début novel, Body and Bread.”

— Beth Castrodale, July 16, 2013

Small Press Picks

San Antonio Author Nan Cuba Aims Straight for the Heart with Body and Bread

“This is the book’s real point: how a sensitive person makes sense of her world. The plot’s literal events center on young Sarah’s gradual estrangement from her family and adult Sarah’s efforts to help her late brother’s widow and child. But as with Salinger, Cuba’s plot is almost incidental. Her writerly strengths lie in morsels of feeling perfectly put, and experiences rendered with unsettling aptness.”

— Jo DePrang, October 16, 2013

Texas Observer

“Beautifully written, hauntingly true, expertly spanning multiple cultures, time periods and philosophies, Body and Bread is nothing short of a tour-de-force. You will be transported. You will be transformed.”

—David Bowles, The Monitor, Oct. 24, 2013

“Like Munro, Cuba knows how to immerse us in the eloquent, intelligent, and unpretentious consciousness of a woman whose fidelity is to the unraveling of the many layers of truth that lay hidden, like ancient civilizations, beneath the surface of time. This truth scavenging makes Body and Bread an emotionally, ethically, and aesthetically riveting experience.”

— K.L. Cook, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Nov. 12, 2013

Nan Cuba’s Body and Bread could be the quintessential Texas novel for the twenty-first century. Body and Bread focuses on several generations of the Pelton family, their relationship to Texas, and those issues of family, tragedy, illness, and kinship. Like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Cuba’s Texas is rich with history and tainted with deceptions revolving around slavery and race relations in the South.”

— Catherine Kasper, 2013

Texas Books in Review

Author Nan Cuba inspires students, community to write

“‘Think and act like a writer,’ Cuba said. ‘Set up a work space that’s designated for your writing – and use your writing space.'” 

Victoria Advocate

Nan Cuba: Looking Back, Paying It Forward

“I took a fiction workshop offered by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio. That’s where I met Nan Cuba. Her teaching style was insightful, enthusiastic and gentle. She offered two important suggestions: read Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and don’t force a symbol on a story.”

— Diana Lopez, Dec. 3, 2014

Victoria Advocate

Local author offers tips for future writers

“Local author Nan Cuba captivated an audience of students and faculty by sharing her passion for literary fiction during a Nov. 20 book reading and talk at Palo Alto College.”

—Gloria Petit, Dec. 1, 2014

Mesquite News, Texas A&M San Antonio

“Richly deserving of its state and regional honors, Body and Bread is a true Texas novel, presenting both a nuanced exploration of one family’s struggle to define itself and a testament to the intricate, often fragile, but ultimately enduring connections of Texans past and present.”

—Marian Zczepanski, Fall 2014

Concho River Review


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