GINGERBREAD by Helen Oyeyemi

From the Jacket

Perdita Lee may appear your average British school girl; 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 walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation.  And then there’s the gingerbread they bake; Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the faraway (or, according to many sources, nonexistent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth.  The world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread, however, is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel- a figure who seems to have a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, teenage Perdita’s search for her mother’s long-lost friend prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story.  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.

My Thoughts

The hype is real for GINGERBREAD.  I will admit I was initially drawn to it because of its gorgeous cover, which I’d seen lurking around my Instagram feed for several weeks.  Like most Riverhead publications, I was lured in with gorgeous design work, and then pleasantly surprised by the literature inside.  Wonderfully told and vividly imagined, GINGERBREAD tells the story of Harriet Lee, from her childhood as a Gingerbread Girl in Druhástrana to her daughter Perdita’s childhood as a young teenager in Britain.

“All that happens when you grow up is that your ethics get completely compromised and you do extremely dodgy things you never imagined doing, apparently for the sake of others.”

I had to take my time with GINGERBREAD, taking a break after each chapter; it is one of the books you really want (and need) to read slowly, being careful not to skip anything.  GINGERBREAD was a lot to take in; there were so many elements happening at once.  The majority of my reading experience was me just wondering what the heck was going on.  The beginning was quite slow, but once Harriet begins telling her daughter, Perdita, the story of her childhood in Druhástrana, the pacing really picks up and the novel, in my opinion, becomes a lot more interesting.  From then on, things only get weirder, yet Oyeyemi manages to pull her audience back towards reality with frequent pop culture references, as Perdita’s grandmother accidentally “super likes” a Tinder match.

With GINGERBREAD, Oyeyemi cooks up a novel that is wonderfully weird, combining magical realism, fairy tale, brief glimpses of politics and feminism, and her remarkable way with words into a novel that is unlike any other.

Further Reading

“Helen Oyeyemi’s Dark, Delicious Fairy Tale” by Jennifer Baker, Electric Literature
Sui Generis: Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread by Anita Felicelli, Los Angeles Review of Books.

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