First published in the US in 2010 by Small Beer Press, Karen Lord’s debut novel uses Senegalese folklore to weave an energetic and self-aware story of food, family and mischievous djombi spirits causing chaos.
In many ways, this is less a novel than a jumbled heap of Story. It’s unified by the central figure of Paama, a woman whose cooking skills approach the mythic, and who sets everything in motion by leaving her husband, Ansige. He, too, has the air of myth about him: his appetite is so prodigious that he can eat an entire sheep in one sitting and then turn around and hungrily eye up a goat in the next field. When Ansige follows Paama back to her home village, the djombi step in, and soon talking insects galore are encouraging Ansige to new heights of pratfalling gluttony. Further stories spiral outwards from this, as Lord bounces from topic to topic with gleeful abandon.
The whole thing is enormous fun, thanks not least to a chatty, companionable narrator who intervenes every so often to agree that yes, the whole thing might and silly and improbable, but just because we, the readers, haven’t personally been spoken to by a giant spider in a bar doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen – we just haven’t been in the right bar, drinking the right drinks. And even if we had, the spider would have wiped our memories later anyway. Ace.
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