The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam

20 06 2008

by Lauren Liebenberg

Author: Lauren Liebenberg

ISBN: 9781844084975

Pages: 238

Publication Date: 2008

“Cia is my sister and I am her leader. The two of us are sitting on the flagstone steps outside the kitchen eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Cia peels hers apart, while I squash the layers of bread together between my palms until mine oozes peanut butter and jam goo, and then I gulp it down.”

Despite the misleading title, which conjures up images of a cookbook dedicated to peanut butter and jam recipes, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is set during the civil war in Rhodesia. In the late ’70s, two young sisters, Nyree and Cia O’Callahan, live in a rambling old farmstead at the edge of a forest. The decrepit house is itself a metaphor for the country at large, which was governed by a white minority rule until it gained independence from Britain in 1980 and became Zimbabwe.

Race relations between the land-owning whites and the “Afs” – the black Africans – are tense but not yet dire at the time in which the book is set. The two sisters begin to craft a world within the big fence that surrounds their family farm, erected to keep out the ‘Ters’, whom their father Sean O’Callahan is away fighting. Cia and Nyree spend their days imagining what goes on in the forest beyond the farm and listening to the stories of their somewhat alcoholic grandfather.

Told from the perspective of eight year old Nyree, the turbulent politics of 1970s Rhodesia is hazily constructed in the background, and is juxtaposed against in depth descriptions of the natural environment and Nyree’s vivid imagination conjuring up fairies and malignant spirits.

The girls revel in their decaying but paradisical world until the arrival of their orphaned cousin, Ronin “the bastard”, changes everything. A sequence of unnatural happenings occur on the farm that force the girls to stop imagining and realise what evil really looks like. The end of the children’s’ innocence is used as a metaphor for the whole of the country, as the colony is also embarking on a new era of its life.

Liebenberg’s novel is a strange but effective brew of fire-and-brimstone Catholicism and African paganism, along with snippets of Enid Blyton and the Brothers Grimm. This book sends the reader into a purely African read, full of politics, slang and true African traditions. Liebenberg’s descriptions send the reader into a sensory adventure of sight, smell and pure African beauty.

With a helpful glossary of all words foreign this book proves to be more than a satisfactory first novel.

I give it a 7 out of 10.

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