Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

“Hold it gently, this hungry beast that is your heart. Feed it well.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 441 pages.
Read from February 21, 2021 to February 24, 2021.

I’m finally starting to catch up on the Canada Reads selection for this year, hopefully just in time for the debates happening soon. This is book three of five of the Canada Reads 2021 contenders. Roger Mooking is championing Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi in the debates taking place on March 8-11.

Butter Honey Pig Bread begins in Lagos with a young Kambirinachi, an Ogbanje, who is a spirit that causes misfortune to a family by being born and then dying as a child, unwilling to commit to the world of the flesh and causing misery to the humans that she affects. This changes one day when she decides to stay and live as a human. This choice however, does not come without consequences. The book follows Kambirinachi through her youth, how she finds love, that then gives birth to her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. The story progresses through her daughters stories and the traumas that tears them apart. Kehinde’s childhood trauma causes her distance herself and blames her sister resulting in her running off to Canada where she becomes an artist and meets her husband. Taiye also runs off but to England where she covers her guilt and loneliness in one-night stands and benders. Taiye finds some reprieve in cooking and eventually pursues a cooking certification in Halifax, Canada. Each member of the family is haunted by the past and they can’t avoid each other forever. After Taiye returns home to take care of her mother in Lagos, Kehinde returns for a visit so that her family can meet her new husband, each are eager but reluctant to reconcile.

This is one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve read in the last few years and it reached me in ways I didn’t anticipate. It’s a story of forgiveness, friendship, love, and family that spans across three countries with a whimsical touch from the addition of Kambirinachi’s real self as an Ogbanje. I cried at the story’s climax and conclusion as the writing had me absolutely captivated and captured in this world and characters. I was more engaged with Taiye’s struggles that circle around her tumultuous and non-committal love life that allows her to neglect her own feeling of guilt. Taiye’s connections and struggles with others are immensely relatable and I found the tension between her and Kehinde familiar. There are also some amazing and intense sex scenes and scrumptious descriptions of traditional foods from Nigeria. This book really has something for everyone. I was absolutely transported with this book, in fact, I missed bus stops while reading this book I was so enthralled with it at times. The writing it concise and succinct and shows off the author’s talents as a storyteller, especially with a debut novel. I hope to see more from this author in the future.

Out of all the books I’ve read from the Canada Reads 2021 contenders this one is my favourite so far. It’s a gorgeous piece of literature with a phenomenal story and it best meets the theme of One Book To Transport Us out of the books that I’ve read. A strong contender for the winner likely to be one of my favourite reads of the year.

Canada Reads 2018 – Favs and Predictions

Debates kick off next week. Have you read them all yet?

It’s almost time! The debates kick off next week from March 26-29, 2018. In advance of the debates, I have read all five novels and have broken down the five into two lists. One, based on which ones I enjoyed the most and two, based on how the book best fits this year’s theme. Don’t forget to click on the links to read my full reviews on each novel!

Let’s start with the theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes. Here is how I think the debates will unfold and which book I think will be the winner.

Predictions:

5) The Marrow Thieves –  Putting a dystopian YA novel in with other quality pieces of literature is always going to be a gamble and while the topic of the treatment of Native Americans is important the execution of this story just didn’t match up with the other contenders. The loose concept of dreams being stuck in bone marrow was a bit of stretch too.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It draws attention to children and families living with disabilities. The writing is lighthearted and humorous but lacks the depth of the other contending novels.

3) Forgiveness – Rife with Canadian history as well lesser-known war details about Canada’s time in Hong Kong during WWII. The author’s grandparents come to terms with the terrible misfortunes that the war has brought them and learn to forgive as their families come together.  The writing can be a bit clunky and did not feel like a finished whole.

2) American War – Another dystopian though catered to a very adult audience. The content of this book is violent and brutal and draws a lot of attention to the realities of war and the politics behind it as well as the people that suffer in its wake.

1) The Boat People – Despite the slow start to this novel, this book takes the cake when it comes to the theme this year. The book is inspired by a real refugee crisis that happened in Canada in 2010 and it really opens your eyes past all the media and politics to the real issue facing refugees.

In terms of the books I enjoyed the most, however, I would rank the novels as such. It was tough this year as I found the difference in genres made it challenging as I enjoyed a few of the stories equally.

Enjoyability:

5) The Marrow Thieves – This book just didn’t click with me. The storytelling tradition aspects of the book are beautiful but the general YA premise just didn’t work for me.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it was the most uplifting of the five. Had the other books not been as poignant it would have been higher up on this list.

3) Forgiveness –  Despite the issues I had with the writing style, the content about Hong Kong and the author’s time in a Japanese POW was absolutely captivating.

2) American War – This book surprised me the most. I was completely drawn into this world and the ending left me gutted.

1) The Boat People – Based on the first quarter of this book, I thought it was going to be on the bottom of this list, thankfully the dry story quickly came together to create something phenomenal and beautiful. This book combines dynamic and visceral characters paired with a memorable and important story that will be sure to tug on anyone’s conscience.

What do you think of my predictions and favourites? Do you agree? Comment and let me know!

Here are a few more details to get you prepped and ready for the debates! The contenders and their chosen books are:

Ali Hassan from CBC’s Laugh Out Loud will host for the second year in a row.

The debates will air on CBC Radio One at 11:05 a.m. ET, CT, MT, PT; 1:05 p.m. in Atlantic Canada; and at 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. They will also be live-streamed on CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on CBC Television at 4 p.m. local time.

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

“Forgiveness is moving on. It is a daily act that looks forward. Forgiveness smiles.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 210 pages.
Read from February 20, 2018 to February 27, 2018.

This was the one book in the 2018 Canada Reads that I was most excited for. While the book started slow I was absolutely captivated by the brutal history of this family and was soon not able to put it down.

Sakamoto’s family has a rich, tragic and courageous history. His grandfather on his mother’s side, a white-Canadian from the east coast, joined the war efforts in WWII where he was captured in Hong Kong by the Japanese. He lived and suffered intensely for four years in POW camp. His grandmother, on his father’s side, is a Japanese-born Canadian. Sakamoto details the horrifying things that the Canadian government did to his grandmother’s family and the Japanese living in Canada during WWII, especially after the Pearl Harbour bombing. This is a part of history that most Canadians know little about or the brutality of what we did to our own people. I know I sure didn’t and it really opened my eyes. Canada is often viewed as an untainted and tolerant place to live but our own history is just as stained as others. Additionally, I imagine very few Canadians know of the regiments that served out in Hong Kong and the losing battle that they had to endure.

The book continues through Sakamoto’s family saga and the remarkable ability for his grandparents to forgive was a constant foundation in his life. Can you imagine when Sakamoto’s parents wanted to marry how that might have felt to their own parents? Each had suffered so much from each other’s different ethnicities and tet their powerful understanding, shared suffering, and ability to move forward is nothing short of courageous. Sakamoto also details the difficult upbringing he had with his alcoholic mother and how that shaped his future ambitions and responsibilities.

Mitsue Sakamoto, the author’s grandmother, Phyllis MacLean the author’s mother, Ralph MacLean, the author’s grandfather and Stan Sakamoto the author’s father in Medicine Hat Alberta in 1968. Source: The Daily Mail

Sakamoto’s story is highly emotional and I would be lying if I did not say I welled up in few parts.  The suffering and tenacity of his grandparents and even the death of his mother were hard to bear as a reader. Sakamoto really drew into some great emotional depth with his story-telling. The added pictures in the book were also a great touch as it really felt like you knew his family.

While I ended up loving this book, I did not start off feeling that way. The book had a slow start for me as I was initially unsure as to where this story or memoir was going. I found some of the initial story transitions to be a bit clunky, though once his grandfather set off for the war things smoothed out and the main theme of the story was starting to finally come together.  While I enjoyed the story of his upbringing and the suffering endured by him and his mother with her alcoholism it was a massive shift in the direction of the book. The book was now reading more like an autobiography. This disjointing and lack of connection from his grandparent’s story to his own story was not as successful as the rest of the emotionally enticing parts about his grandparents. While his own story is moving in its own right, the novel just did not feel like a complete whole on the theme of forgiveness.  Even with that,  I decided on a 4-star review instead of 3 for this book because of how the book made me feel and for how intently I could not stop reading certain portions.

As I currently live in Hong Kong, I found the parts of his grandfather’s time there especially interesting.  However, Sakamoto mentioned that Kowloon is part of the New Territories and part of mainland China, which isn’t correct. Kowloon is a part of Hong Kong and is its own district.  Since 1997, China has since reclaimed Hong Kong but it is technically still its own country and many locals would not be happy being referred to as mainland China! It was wonderful envisioning these areas that I know well and what they would have been like during the war.  As a Canadian, it was also intriguing to read about a battle that took place during WWII that I imagine many Canadians don’t know about. There are some historical museums and treks in Hong Kong that I am now anxious to partake in.

So far, I have read 3 out of the 5 books in the 2018 Canada Reads. Compared to The Marrow Thieves and Precious Cargo, this novel is definitely one to “open your eyes” as the horrors of the Canadian government during WWII and the part that those Canadian regiments played out in Hong Kong are remarkable and need to be known. The content of this novel is truly jaw-dropping and extremely relevant in the context of today’s racial issues and learning from our own past. As it stands, this novel best meets the criteria for the debate in my opinion but what will the final two books hold? We will soon find out…