Like her Boy, Snow, Bird (2014), Oyeyemi's latest is a clever subversion of fairy tale tropes to expose the secrets, entanglements, and estrangements within a family. Harriet Lee lives in England with her teenage daughter, Perdita, but no matter how much gingerbread Harriet makes, she can't seem to win over the haughty parents at her daughter's school. And then Perdita falls victim to what seems like an overdose. When Perdita awakens, she reveals that she was trying to reach Druhastrana, the mythological land of her mother's youth. This inspires Harriet to unspool her own story, telling Perdita about her childhood in a land based on financial inequality, her mother Margot's marriage to a poor farmer, and the family's eventual involvement with the wealthy Kerchevels. That turned Harriet's life upside down, introducing her to the whimsical, magical Gretel and paving the way for her and Margot's move to England. Both a scathing indictment of capitalism and a tribute to the maddeningly inescapable endurance of family bonds, this enchanting tale will resonate with literary fiction lovers. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
Granta Best of Young British Novelists Oyeyemi has a splendid way with fairy tales, from Bluebeard (Mr. Fox) to Snow White (Boy, Snow, Bird), so here gingerbread is a theme (remember "Hansel and Gretel," not to mention the fleet-footed gingerbread man?). Perdita Lee lives with her mother, Harriet, in a seventh-floor walk-up London apartment, where they make gingerbread famed in Harriet's homeland, Druhástrana. Finally, Perdita travels there to find her mother's gingerbread-loving friend Gretel, an ominous influence on Harriet's life.
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
Library Journal Reviews
An extraordinary recipe for gingerbread, handed down through generations of Harriet Lee's family, is used as a balm, a token of affection, an apology, and to ingratiate oneself with others. It's also the means by which, with one toxic addition, Harriet's daughter, Perdita, attempts suicide. After she is released from the hospital, Perdita returns home to complete her recovery and regain her ability to communicate. Surrounded by her childhood dolls, who magically speak for her, she asks her mother to tell her how she got there. The bedtime story that follows is a multistranded, meandering tale set in the Czech-like country of Druhistan, blending family history with fairy tales recalling "Hansel and Gretel" and "The Gingerbread Man." Along the way, many secrets are revealed, among which is the true identity of Perdita's father. VERDICT It may require some persistence to keep up with the multiple plot threads, the unusual character names, and the Druhistani lore, but patient readers will be rewarded with a rollicking tale from the wildly inventive Oyeyemi, a Granta Best of Young British Novelists whose Boy, Snow, Bird also demonstrates the author's affinity for folklore. [See Prepub Alert, 10/1/18.]—Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
In Oyeyemi's idiosyncratically brilliant latest (following Boy, Snow, Bird), she spins a tale about three generations of women and the gingerbread recipe that is their curse and their legacy. In an effort to understand her heritage, precocious British schoolgirl Perdita Lee recreates her family's famed gingerbread recipe—but with additional ingredients that have near-fatal consequences. When she slips into a coma, her mother, Harriet, is forced to tell her the truth of their family. To do so, she must recount her upbringing in the mysterious country Druhástrana and the arduous journey that finally brought her and her mother, Margot, out of it. Harriet's account is an astonishing tale of rigged lotteries, girls in wells, and the mystifying and meddling Gretel Kercheval, a childhood friend of Harriet's who seems to have an awful lot to do with Harriet's fate. Though Harriet and Margot do eventually manage to leave Druhástrana, they realize that it's not quite as easy to master the outside world, especially not when there are more Kerchevals around to complicate things. Oyeyemi excels at making the truly astounding believable and turning even the most familiar tales into something strange and new. This fantastic and fantastical romp is a wonderful addition to her formidable canon. (Mar.)
Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.
"The prize-winning, bestselling author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours returns with a bewitching and inventive novel."-- - (Baker & Taylor)
The prize-winning, bestselling author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours returns with a bewitching and inventive novel.
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 to be 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 walk-up apartment 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 Druhástrana, the far-away (or, according to many sources, non-existent) 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 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 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, it is a true feast for the reader. - (Penguin Putnam)