An enriching combination: Octopus and Raw Sugar

Author Lisa de Nikolits (right) speaks at Raw Sugar Café. Photo: Stephen Thirlwall.

Author Lisa de Nikolits (right) speaks at Raw Sugar Café. Photo: Stephen Thirlwall.

by Stephen Thirlwall

A few days ago, as I walked past Raw Sugar Café near the Chinatown Gate on Somerset West, I noticed a poster announcing an upcoming book release and reading.

I thought it was for children’s books, and since I have grandchildren, I said to myself “I’ll go.” When Saturday afternoon arrived, I did so, only to find out it was for an adult book—a mystery in particular.

The Witchdoctor’s Bones is an Agatha Christie-style adventure mystery with the added dark side of black magic. Author Lisa de Nikolits writes about people and how they change in differing environments. She loves creating hosts of strange characters, even twisted ones. Each of her tales has the secret ingredient of something sinister. This particular story took six years to write. She had so many ideas and possible characters that a lot of weeding had to be done to develop the final book.

De Nikolits draws heavily from life experiences. She grew up in South Africa in the white community under apartheid. The farm where she lived had once been nomadic bushman land. This left her with the burning question: How does one do more and have a voice in such a place when on both sides of the fence people are rigidly restricted in what they can say or do even when they clearly know things are not right? Her conclusion was that it is better to know than not know, so one can contribute to change.

Underlying the book’s story is the thought that you shouldn’t play with something of power that you know nothing about, in this case, the witchdoctor’s bones. She herself had some authentic witchdoctor’s bones, which are now thankfully almost impossible to obtain. She personally discovered these were best left unused.

She draws the parallel that whites have meddled in Africa in many ways that they never should have, resulting in great disruption and bad luck.

In Africa, things can be different. There are different types of murder than in Europe or America. For example, some people are murdered for their body parts, which are then used in “good luck” rituals.

Lisa also lived in Australia and Britain before coming to Toronto. She had planned to go to the USA but found the Canadian writing community so creative, warm and friendly that she stayed in Toronto.

This program at Raw Sugar Café was sponsored by Octopus Books, which has a regular series of book readings, usually at its 251 Bank Street location in Centretown. In May, there are four free sessions.

As well as great coffee and treats in an intimate setting, Raw Sugar provides regular programs of games nights, poetry, comedy, and musical talents, particularly regional entertainers from Ontario and Quebec. Their collaboration proves that Octopus mixed with Raw Sugar produces very tasteful words.