Gingerbread

Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread
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Gingerbread

Helen Oyeyemi

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories - equal parts wholesome and uncanny; from the tantalizing witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can - beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Perdita Lee may appear your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor flat with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make.

Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhastrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval - a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story, as well as a reunion or two. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value.

Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, Gingerbread is a true feast for the reader.

Review

The Lee family gingerbread is legendary – it has been known to cause obsession in a single bite. Margot and her daughter Harriet are quite unusual. They come from the land of Druhástrana, which doesn’t exist according to anyone who doesn’t come from there, and Harriet’s daughter Perdita, born and raised in England, has four talking dolls as her closest companions.

Perdita is desperate to know more about her mother’s past and heritage. For this reason, she attempts to find Harriet’s childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval. Gretel has had an enormous impact on Harriet’s life since the day they met – and she also might not be exactly human. In her effort to track Gretel down, Perdita learns the story of how her mother and grandmother came to live in England, as well as the story of her own birth. This is a story that involves escaping smalltown life, a potentially sinister gingerbread factory, and the practice of a single, annual good deed by one fortunate family.

Gingerbread is the strange and beautiful story of a sprawling family history. It has all the scope and sense of place you might expect from a Zadie Smith novel combined with the surrealism of a Murakami, and is strung together with stunning prose. The quality of Oyeyemi’s writing is the making of this book. It has the lilting, sing-song energy of a fairy tale, yet manages to harness the abject at the same time, often in the same sentence. I believe that Helen Oyeyemi is one of the most underrated contemporary literary authors, and each time I read her work, I’m blown away by the way she seamlessly blends writing about magic, heritage, culture, and deeply complex relationships.


Ellen Cregan is the marketing and events coordinator.

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