Congee and Peanut-Butter


143 pages
ISBN 0-88750-791-3
DDC C818'.5403





Kathleen E. Richards is a Toronto-based free-lance editor.


Completing a trilogy (the first two volumes are Guns and Magnolias and A
Time of Cicadas), Congee and Peanut-Butter recounts the story of the
author’s life in Shanghai to the end of World War II. It is told
simply, in a matter-of-fact way, although without the gentle nostalgia
of the earlier books.

Following the fall of Shanghai and Pearl Harbor to the Japanese on
December 8, 1941, the young Read and her English husband of several
months were interned by the Japanese in a local university for
two-and-a-half years. With several hundred other British citizens they
endured hardships that none of them had ever faced before—including
the lack of good food, medical care, heat, and other amenities of
peacetime existence.

Read, the daughter of Estonian refugees from the Russian Revolution,
finds herself jolted into adulthood during these difficult years; packed
into a makeshift concentration-camp dormitory with the families of
strangers, she befriends for the first time a variety of people to whom
she has never been exposed before, and learns to appreciate the
differences of others. In the course of her adventures she also finds
the religious faith that has previously eluded her.

As in the earlier books, the narrative alternates between the
author’s memories of the 1940s and her later life in Vancouver in the
1980s. It ends abruptly with Read’s farewell to her family as she and
her husband depart for Canada after the war. By this time she seems
eager to leave, although the reader will remember her experiences and
her fine writing, as well as Oberon’s fine production of her books,
for a long time to come.


Read, Elfreida., “Congee and Peanut-Butter,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,