“Gingerbread” By Helen Oyeyemi – Review of a Sombre Story of Family, Community, and Quality

Image illustrates Gingerbread" By Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread: A Novel
By Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead Books)

In her sixth novel, Gingerbread, Helen Oyeyemi finds inspiration in fairy tales, as she did with her 2014 novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, and her 2016 short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

This time, we follow Harriet, a beautiful woman in her 30s with a teenage daughter, Perdita. Both mother and daughter are prematurely gray, and both find it difficult to make friends.

Harriet still feels tied to her childhood companion, Gretel, and Perdita’s main confidants are for dolls who have sprouted plants from their bodies and learned to speak. Harriet was born in the mysterious country of Druhástrana, and fled for Britain when she was a teenager—taking nothing but a possibly magical gingerbread recipe.

As Perdita grows, she yearns to visit Druhástrana to solve the mystery of who her father is. The gingerbread may hold the answer.

Oyeyemi incorporates fairy tale elements, magical realism, and multiple framing devices to draw readers deeper into her story, building up the mysteries of Druhástrana and taking the plot through unexpected twists.

Fans of Oyeyemi’s work won’t want to miss it, and first-time readers will become fans, too. (5/5)

By Erika W. Smith
Gingerbread was released March 5, 2019
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. via bust.com

More from BUST

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Author Helen Oyeyemi’s Life and Writings

Oyeyemi wrote her first novel, The Icarus Girl, while studying for her A-levels[3] at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. While studying social and political sciences at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, Oyeyemi saw two of her plays, Juniper’s Whitening and Victimese, performed by fellow students to critical acclaim, and subsequently published by Methuen.

In 2007 Bloomsbury published Oyeyemi’s second novel, The Opposite House, which is inspired by Cuban mythology.[4][5] Her third novel, White is for Witching, described as having “roots in Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe”, was published by Picador in May 2009.

A fourth novel, Mr Fox (“a meditation on the writing process itself, filled with vignettes about how language may ensnare or liberate”, wrote Anita Sethi),[6] was published by Picador in June 2011, and a fifth, Boy, Snow, Bird, in 2014.

Oyeyemi published a story collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, in 2016.

Oyeyemi’s latest work is a novel, Gingerbread, was published 5 March 2019.



  • The Icarus Girl (2005)
  • The Opposite House (2007)
  • White is for Witching (2009, French translation as Le Blanc va aux sorcières, 2011)
  • Mr Fox (2011)
  • Boy, Snow, Bird (2014)[7]
  • Gingerbread (2019)


  • Juniper’s Whitening (2004)[13]
  • Victimese (2005)

Short story collections

  • What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (2016)

via Wikipedia

More About Helen Oyeyemi

To read a Helen Oyeyemi novel is to willingly enter a tangled wood, where the paths wander and circle, and the way out isn’t always clear, but the scenery is full of an alarming and brilliant beauty.

A one-time prodigy (the British daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she published her first novel, The Icarus Girl, in her teens), Oyeyemi has always been interested in how people, especially women, arrive at their identities, a journey shaped by relationships that define and, more often than not, confine them.

About Helen Oyeyemi Oyeyemi has an eye for the gently perverse, the odd detail that turns the ordinary marvelously, frighteningly strange The Boston Globe Helen Oyeyemi wrote her first novel, The Icarus Girl, while still at school studying for her A levels at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

Oyeyemi’s point can sometimes seem as elusive as that house, but the charm evident on every page of this novel is enough to lure any reader through its twistier passages, and gradually the novel … via slate.com

British author Helen Oyeyemi wants you to know that you’re never too old for fairy tales. She’s made a career out of writing books that draw on the folklore that we all read as children — her 2011 novel Mr. Fox drew on the British fairy tale of the same name, while her 2014 book Boy, Snow, Bird found its inspiration in the story of Snow White.

In her new novel, Gingerbread, Oyeyemi turns her eye to the story of Hansel and Gretel, the classic German fairy tale about a brother and sister who make a violent escape from a witch’s house.

Her novel isn’t a retelling; rather, it approaches the story with the sly obliqueness that’s become one of Oyeyemi’s trademarks. And just like her previous books, it’s both stunningly beautiful and breathtakingly original.

Gingerbread tells the story of teacher Harriet Lee and her daughter, Perdita, both of whom are stubborn and mysterious in their own ways. Harriet is kind but hard to know; she’s tough, but “if she has an aura, it’s pastel-colored.”

Her teenage daughter is a loner, “careful with her words” and “neither liked nor disliked by her classmates; she is merely disregarded.” via Book Review

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi |Reviews from  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

“Exhilarating. . .Gingerbread is jarring, funny, surprising, unsettling, disorienting and rewarding. . .This is a wildly imagined, head-spinning, deeply intelligent novel that requires some effort and attention from its reader. And that is just one of its many pleasures.”- New York Times Book Review

“Charm evident on every page.”– Slate

“This is a bold book with a great deal of depth and mischief to it that makes you think how astonishing it would be to have our parents sit up with us for a whole night and tell us in fine detail what they have lived.” – Financial Times

“Is there an author working today who is comparable to Helen Oyeyemi? She might be the only contemporary author for whom it’s not hyperbole to claim she’s sui generis, and I don’t think it’s a stretch either to say she’s a genius, as opposed to talented or newsworthy or relevant or accomplished, each of her novels daring more in storytelling than the one before. . .

A tale that bears multiple rereadings and is more marvelous the deeper you’re willing to dive into its rearranging of reality, its derangement.”- Los Angeles Review of Books

“Helen Oyeyemi is a master of reinventing tropes from traditional fairy tales to say something entirely new about the world we live in. She twists familiar stories in entirely unpredictable ways, and her books never end up where you thought they would when you started.” –Vulture via penguinrandomhouse.com

Sui Generis: Helen Oyeyemi’s “Gingerbread”

MARCH 5, 2019

IS THERE AN AUTHOR working today who is comparable to Helen Oyeyemi? She might be the only contemporary author for whom it’s not hyperbole to claim she’s sui generis, and I don’t think it’s a stretch either to say she’s a genius, as opposed to talented or newsworthy or relevant or accomplished, each of her novels daring more in storytelling than the one before.

After reading any of her novels or her short story collection, you emerge as if from a dream, your sense of how things work pleasurably put out of order. If we read procedurals to enjoy a sense of order restored, everything put it in its place, we read Oyeyemi for the opposite reason, yet she is no less suspenseful.

Oyeyemi’s seventh book, Gingerbread, is an uncanny novel that opens: “Harriet Lee’s gingerbread is not comfort food. There’s no nostalgia baked into it, no hearkening back to innocent indulgences and jolly times at nursery. It is not humble, nor is it dusty in the crumb.”

In the novel, gingerbread serves as both family heirloom and metaphor. It’s what lasts over time (“[it] keeps and keeps. It outlasts all daintier gifts”), over more than three generations of women. But in spite of a lasting foundational image, the novel shows its promise to be unsettling, rather than comforting. via Sui Generis

Helen Oyeyemi interview: the novelist talks Gingerbread and fairy tales

Helen Oyeyemi writes some of the loveliest and oddest books I’ve ever read, filled with shivery, evocative sentences and fairy tale tropes turned slantwise.

Her first novel, 2005’s The Icarus Girl — written by Oyeyemi when she was in high school in the UK and published when she was 20 — was about a little girl plagued by her nightmarish doppelgänger. Her 2014 novel Boy, Snow, Bird, reimagined Snow White as an allegory of race in America.

Her 2016 short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, featured puppets with their strings slashed like a cut throat and a marshland full of drowned corpses that became its own city.

All of her books are so vividly atmospheric that for years after I finish them, I can feel in my bones the exact kind of breathless, goose-pimpled exhilaration they created in me.

I recently spoke to Oyeyemi over email about her latest book, Gingerbread, a novel which revolves around reserved, gingerbread-baking Harriet and her wild, uncontrollable daughter Perdita.

Harriet and Perdita live together in London, but Perdita longs to know about Harriet’s childhood in the obscure (and, according to many, fictional) country of Druhàstrana.

When Harriet finally agrees to tell Perdita the story of her life there, gingerbread — as sustenance, as the product of exploited labor, and as poison — features heavily. via interview: the novelist