Butter Honey Pig Bread tells the story of a mother, Kambirinachi, and her two daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Kambirinachi was born an Ogbanje – a spirit that brings misfortunes to families in the form of a miscarriage or early childhood death. Rather than succumb to her purpose Kambi decides to live, thus spends her life caught between her will to exist and her desire to die.
Her daughters suffered through a traumatic event early in their lives that would go on to create a seemingly irreparable rift between the two. Given both their emotional and physical distance, author Francesca Ekwuyasi spends the majority of the book focusing on the separate lives of the two sisters. This takes the story across the world from Nigeria to Paris to London to Montreal and to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I am a sucker for novels that take place in places I’ve lived. I’m sorry, I can’t help it. When the novel jumps to Halifax and I see familiar spots like the Central Library, Dresden Row, Spring Garden Road and the excellent Bookmark book shop, I can’t help but smile. So, it’s entirely possible that just by throwing in Halifax as a location, this book scored extra points from me.
However, even without Halifax, Butter Honey Pig Bread was a compelling story that at points had me completely gripped. The choice to separate the novel into three narratives really allowed me to get to know each woman intimately, which is a storytelling choice that I absolutely love when used effectively. The traumatizing event from their childhood was a horrendous experience for both women and it’s hard to hold blame against either for what would follow. When the sisters and their mother finally reunite following years spent apart, there’s a simmering tension amoung the three that Ekwuyasi allows to build and build. It had me racing to the finale to see what would unfold.
Francesca Ekwuyasi’s debut novel was an absolute delight to read. Every year, I always champion CBC Canada Reads for putting books in my hands that I normally wouldn’t have gone out of my way to read. Butter Honey Pig Bread is one of those books. Of the four that I’ve read so far, I think this is neck and neck with Natalie Walschots’ HENCH as my favorite and my pick to go deep in the debates.