The first thing I liked about this book was its title, and the novel certainly delivers on the sensuous and sensory promises made by these four words placed alongside each other: Butter, honey, pig, bread. And while the book is divided into four sections thematically preoccupied with each of these in turn, it is fundamentally the story of three women: Kambirinachi, and her twin daughters Taiye and Kehinde. The different chapters are told from the perspectives of these three main characters – though it is only Kehinde whose voice is given in the first person (except for later on in the narrative’s development, but that would spoiling…)
Set in Nigeria, Europe and Canada, the entangled stories of these three women send feelers out far and wide. They encompass the narratives of Kambirinachi, the ogbanje who is torn between her kin and a mortal life, whose trajectory moves her from humble beginnings to a plush house in Lagos. They include Taiye’s hedonistic lifestyle of drugs and casual sex, endless delicious food preparation, heartbreak, end eventual settling into the life of a beekeeping cook who learns how to be a good friend. And they relate the experiences of Kehinde, who is haunted for many years by an awful childhood trauma, to emerge as a successful artist and soon-to-be mother.
Along the way, Ekwuyasi offers up a wonderful cast of side characters of all shapes and sizes, tastes and whims. She demonstrates a contagious delight in describing food and art – many passages left me feeling hungry. She also seems quite deliberately to draw on a variety of Black queer thinkers, which certainly enriches the texture of the book. She tackles big questions gently: about complex family relationships, trauma, consent, prejudice, colonialism, and so much more. Sometimes the emphasis on particularly cool lifestyles – be it the intellectual scene, the hip art scene, etc – seemed a bit contrived to me, but overall, the book takes readers on a wonderful journey through the development of its oftentimes charmingly difficult female characters and their complex relationship to each other.
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