Sponsored Collection

Atlantic Books for the Holidays


The Heart Does Not Bend

by Makeda Silvera

0 ratings
0 of 5
comments: 0
reviews: 0
add a tag
Please login or register to use this feature.

list price: $19.95
category: Fiction
published: 2003
imprint: Vintage Canada
View Excerpt

Family loyalty, betrayal and the redemptive power of love are at the heart of this poignant and unforgettable novel set in Canada and Jamaica.

When Maria Galloway dies, she leaves everything to her spoiled, wayward grandson, Vittorio. Her only granddaughter, Molly, whom she raised from infancy, is left to confront the unyielding bitterness Maria harboured against her. As Molly begins to trace the complex interrelationships in her loving but divided family, she recalls her idyllic childhood, spent in her grandmother’s sky-blue house in Jamaica. There, surrounded by a jungle of coconut, mango and avocado trees and enveloped in the smells of mouth-watering sweet cakes and spicy Jamaican foods, she received her grandmother’s pure and simple generosity, and the return of unconditional love.

But as Molly enters adolescence, she grows increasingly aware of her grandmother’s vulnerabilities and disappointments, her human frailties. When Maria decides that things might get better if she leaves Jamaica and joins her adult children in Canada, she takes Molly with her. But it isn’t long before she, a woman who has always lived on her own terms and has never been afraid to speak her mind, clashes with her children. Even Molly falls into disfavour when Maria discovers that she is romantically involved with a woman.

From generational saga to tender love story, The Heart Does Not Bend is a vivid and heartfelt portrayal of an indomitable matriarch and the women who must free themselves from her.

close this panel


What Is Said over the Dead Lioness’s Body Could Not Be Said to Her Alive

Everyone is sitting at Grand-aunt Ruth’s breakfast table in Kingston -- Uncle Peppie and Aunt Val; Uncle Mikey; Glory, my mother and the executor of my grandmother’s estate; the grand-aunts, Ruth and Joyce; cousins Icie, Ivan and Vittorio; and my daughter, Ciboney, and her eleven-month-old baby. Uncle Freddie is the only one missing.

The muttering around the table gives way to the crackling of the papers in Glory’s hand. Except for the three youngest, we are nervous. Ciboney, just fifteen, looks bored, but the hint of malice around her mouth makes me wonder what she is thinking. Vittorio, handsome at nineteen, idly plays with his brick-coloured, shoulder-length dreadlocks. Aunt Val has an arm protectively around Uncle Peppie’s shoulder. Uncle Mikey crosses and uncrosses his legs. Grand-aunt Ruth wipes sweat from her face with an old washrag, and Aunt Joyce fans herself profusely with a rattan fan she brought back from America. Cousin Icie and Cousin Ivan sit like tin soldiers. My thoughts are a muddle, and my heart is thumping so hard that I am convinced everyone can hear it.

“Okay, we all here?” Glory asks.

“Uh-hum,” we respond as one.

“Well ah think we should just get it over wid,” Glory says as she straightens the papers once more.

“‘I, Maria Maud Galloway, of sound mind and body, make this my Last Will and Testament.’”

“‘I hereby revoke all my former wills and other testamentary dispositions of every nature and kind whatsoever hereto before made by me.’”

Glory pauses, inhales heavily and says, “Dis is not Mama’s first will. Dis is about de tenth. De lawyer dem love her.”

“‘I nominate, constitute and appoint my daughter, Glory May Galloway, to be the sole executor of this my will.’”

She pauses again. “Ah skipping some of de legal talk.”

“‘To my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway, I bequeath the properties known as 100 Pear Avenue, in the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, Canada, and the fifty-five acres of land in the township of Muskoka free and clear of all liens and encumbrances whatsoever, for his own use absolutely.’”

“‘To my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway, I also bequeath the property at 3 Wigton Street, in the City of Kingston, Jamaica, free and clear of all liens and encumbrances whatsoever, for his own use absolutely.’”

A loud gasp escapes from Uncle Peppie; Aunt Val strokes his shoulder. Glory sighs. Uncle Mikey uncrosses his legs and plants his feet firmly on the ground, his face an ugly mask. Uncle Peppie slumps further into his chair.

“Lawd God Almighty!” Aunt Joyce shouts.

“Calm down. Quiet, Joyce, mek we hear de rest of de will,” Grand-aunt Ruth commands.

Glory’s mouth is clamped tight as she reads the rest of the will silently.

“Go on, Glory,” Grand-aunt Ruth says, gently resting her hand on Glory’s arm. Glory takes a sip of her coffee, as if to help loosen her mouth.

“‘To transfer my hope chest to my great-granddaughter, Ciboney Galloway, for her own use absolutely.

“‘To transfer all other household items on the properties to my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway.

“‘To transfer all moneys from my bank account in the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and in the City of Kingston, Jamaica, to my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway.’”

Glory is still reading. By now I am only half listening. I see Maria, Mama to me, in the hospital bed, me changing her soaked diaper. She grips my hands, her eyes pleading, the words coming out with difficulty.

“Molly, tek mi outa dis iron coffin. Tek me out, carry mi home. Mek mi dead in mi own bed.”

“‘Should my said grandson predecease me, or die at the same time or in circumstances rendering it uncertain which of us survived the other, or die within thirty days of my death, then I direct my Trustee to give my grandson’s share of my estate to charity, for the charity’s use absolutely.’”

Glory’s voice breaks. Her body sags from the weight of the will. Uncle Mikey offers her a glass of water.

“Here, Glory, drink dis.”

“Dis is madness. Dis is plain, outright madness,” Glory says. “Ah should have certified her a long time ago.” Her voice is full of contempt and she is trembling.

“Ah wonder if Maria was in her right mind for truth?” Aunt Joyce adds, shaking her head in disbelief.

Uncle Mikey’s voice is bitter. “Mama is a wicked, revengeful ’oman. How she could do dis? Wherever she gone, she won’t find peace.” He pushes his chair back, ready to leave the table.

“Mikey, tek it easy. Sit down. Yuh not massa God. And only Him can judge,” Grand-aunt Ruth says. He opens his mouth to argue, but one look from Grand-aunt Ruth and he changes his mind.

“Ah try mi best all dese years to be a good daughter, and for what? Ah use to parcel up de whole of Canada and send home to her.”

“Yes, Glory, yuh give her your best, and she did love you very much. Don’t cuss and don’t harbour bad feelings. God not sleeping and Him work in mysterious ways. Dis is why life and death is a mystery to us all,” Grand-aunt Ruth says.

I remember Mama at the hospital, her eyes wild, her panicked whisper pleading with me to take her home.

“De man calling mi, Molly. Him ready to tek mi.” Her breathing was harsh, her mouth caving in without her dentures.

I didn’t have to look across the table at Uncle Peppie to feel his shame. He was Maria’s first-born, the faithful, obedient son. It’s as if she’s in the room, sitting at the table, and he won’t say anything bad about her. Like me, he never stood up to her, and her death changes nothing. When Uncle Peppie finally speaks, he doesn’t mention the will.

“Well, at least she get her final wish. She bury right next to Mammy, in Port Maria Cemetery.”

“You too kind-hearted, Peppie,” Uncle Mikey jumps in, sucking his teeth.

Glory, in full agreement, cuts her eyes across the table.

“Is Peppie save her. Is him give her a second life.”

“Dis is her idea of revenge,” Mikey spits out. “She was always harbouring some anger. Freddie right fi nuh come.”

“Molly remember de dresses,” Uncle Peppie quietly reminds me.

They have forgotten Vittorio. It’s as if he weren’t there. Grand-aunt Ruth comes to his rescue.

"What time is yuh flight, Vic?"

"Soon, Aunt Ruth. I should get back to packing." He pushes back his chair, eager to get away.

"Let we hold we head in prayer before yuh leave, Vic. Dis bickering and bad feeling toward de living and de dead nuh good," Grand-aunt Ruth says, determined to bank the fire. "Okay, let we all hold hands. 'Please, dear Father, help us to bury dis hatred and to ward off de temptation of Satan. Let us receive not de spirit of de world, but de Spirit which is of God.' " Her eyes are closed. She doesn't need her Bible for this. "Praise de Lord and may Him Spirit and de goodness of Him be wid us."

Uncle Peppie slowly pushes back his chair and excuses himself. Aunt Val follows. Vittorio mumbles something about finishing his packing. Uncle Mikey says he needs fresh air. Glory follows. The great-aunts retire to the kitchen. Cousin Icie and Cousin Ivan escape to the backyard.

I nurse my cold cup of coffee. Just Ciboney, the baby and I are left sitting there. We stare out the window, oblivious to the flies swarming the table. She looks like me when I was her age: tall and willowy, molasses complexion, full lips and ackee-seed eyes. I want to fold her in my arms, tell her I love her, but it seems too late.

How could Mama do this? How? I was her only grand-daughter. I was there. I was always there. Vittorio never was, and what did he know of Wigton Street?

Outside it's bleak. It rained all night and the clouds are just hanging. I don't know what I expected from my grandmother, but if I am not careful, I might say things I'll regret, especially to Vittorio. But I want my daughter back and he is the only person who can get her back for me.


Early the next morning I leave the house, hire a car, take the dresses to the cousins, and then drive out to the cemetery.

close this panel
Contributor notes

Makeda Silvera was born in Jamaica and now lives in Canada. She is the author of two critically acclaimed collections of short stories, Her Head a Village and Remembering G. She is the editor of The Other Woman: Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature and the groundbreaking Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology.

close this panel
Editorial Review

The Heart Does Not Bend is guided by an emotional and intellectual honesty, making it both a highly entertaining and a thoroughly rewarding novel.” -- Quill and Quire
The Heart Does Not Bend is an achingly rich, sensuous text…. Keep an eye on this author, because The Heart Does Not Bend is a refreshingly simple but undeniably intense addition to this country’s literary legacy.” -- NOW Magazine

The Heart Does Not Bend is as much a story of familial love and loss as it is an important and interesting exercise in writing -- and for the reader, in reading -- against the grain.” -- Shani Mootoo, Globe and Mail

“[T]he outspoken Maria stays with the reader, as possibly one of the most vivid characters ever to rise up from the printed page….The Heart Does Not Bend is a sensuous book, full of smells (fish to floral), sights (those Jamaican Blue Mountains), sounds (the chatter of crickets and neighbours) and tastes.” -- The Gazette (Montreal)
“This is a frank, vivid and sad tale about a family divided by distance, jealousy and disappointment. But Makeda Silvera’s first novel is also a tale about love and hope restored…. Silvera weaves wonderful descriptions throughout the story, engaging every sense…. The Heart Does Not Bend is a worthy first novel -- startling, genuine and yet, extremely draining.” -- Victoria Times Colonist
“[The Heart Does Not Bend is] a novel of delicate eloquence…. Silvera does several things that impress when it comes to language…. Her dialogue is pure patois, delightfully expressive, but democratically measured…. [T]his portrait of a family is also a poignant saga of Jamaican society. In Maria, Silvera has created a completely idiosyncratic figure, strong and weak, generous and intolerant, the novel’s unbending heart.” -- The Toronto Star
“The strength of the novel lies in its description, especially of Jamaica, and its peeling back the layers of loyalty to family and culture. While several members of the family leave Jamaica for Toronto, they are always Jamaican, by voice, by skin colour, by food, by family ties.” -- The Edmonton Journal
“Silvera, a poet, knows how to use sight, sound, taste, touch and smell to create beautiful images.” -- W.P. Kinsella, Books In Canada
The Heart Does Not Bend envelops the reader in all the intricacies of life and love in a modern family and leaves the reader with the understanding that true happiness is found more easily in loving than in being loved. It is a captivating, human and deeply true tale, a welcome addition to contemporary Canadian literature.” -- The Hamilton Spectator

“A sensuous book, full of smells (fish to floral), sights (those Jamaican Blue Mountains), sounds (the chatter of crickets and neighbours) and tastes.”-- The Gazette

close this panel

Buy this book at:

Other titles by Makeda Silvera

User Activity

more >
Contacting facebook
Please wait...