Queen Sugar Book Review

A colorful novel detailing life in the South and also the backbreaking, brutal, yet rewarding life that is sugarcane farming today.

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Queen Sugar, the deyet novel from Natalie Baszile, is a book deeply steeped in its wealthy establishing — the sugarcane plantations of Louisiana. Baszile is clearly a writer who has actually done her homework-related, rendering in meticulous information the way of life and the landscape of this world: “Mid-July now, Friday, and also after the rainy false start, summer asserted its complete magnificence via velvety morning air and also peachy skies that turned glacier blue by noon, then a brilliant marbled red and purple at dusk. Laid-by and also borer-cost-free, the cane flourished lustily, the swordfavor leaves thickened, the roots deepened, the stalks puburned eagerly upward in the generous sunlight until they stood eleven notches high.” Reading this book is inhabiting, briefly, the backbreaking and brutal yet rewarding life that is sugarcane farming.

Baszile has additionally produced a actors of vivid personalities, and also her strong African-Amerideserve to woguys in particular lug the novel. Charlotte Bordelon — recognized to her family and friends as Charley — born and increased in a comfortable home in Los Angeles, is a widowed, 34-year-old mother that has actually inherited a Louisiana sugarcane plantation from her father. Struggling as an art teacher to inner-city youngsters in Los Angeles, Charley decides to relocate, through her 11-year-old daughter Micah, to Louisiana and also take up farming — in big component bereason her father has actually left the plantation in a trust that provides it impossible for her to sell it. The 2 arrive in Louisiana and relocate in through Charley’s grandmommy, Miss Honey, the opinionated matriarch of a prolonged household clan.

On the other hand, Charley’s older half-brvarious other Ralph Angel, that has been estranged from Charley and their father for years, also sets off for Louisiana after being invited by Miss Honey. Also widowed, Ralph Angel is the father of 6-year-old Blue. A ne’er-do-well whose only supporter is Miss Honey, Ralph Angel feels bitter that his father reduced him out of the will, and the relationship between Charley and Ralph Angel is tense from the minute he arrives.

In spite of a number of setbacks in running her brand-new farm — a absence of funds and manpower, among others — Charley proves herself to be a plucky and also resourceful womale who is not afraid to gain her hands dirty, operating hefty machinery and also stepping in next to her crew to plant cane by hand. Race is a main concern in the book — exactly how could it not be? — and Baszile handles it deftly. Charley is conscious that both her race and gender affect many type of of her interactions — specifically with white male sugarcane farmers — without being obsessed with the shade of her skin. She is comfortable being a black woman and also expects those approximately her to be simply as comfortable — and also if they’re not, that’s their problem, not hers.

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In one of the most sensitively-rendered relationships in the novel, Charley’s love affair with Remy Newell, a white sugarcane farmer, nearly involves an finish as soon as he renders a comment about race. Remy believes himself to be progressive — he lis10s to NPR, after all — and also for the most component he is, and yet he states to Charley, “You’re not prefer various other babsence people; at least not the babsence world roughly right here. It’s practically favor you’re not black at all.” Charley bristles at this comment, replying, “Every morning once I wake up and also look in the mirror, I view a babsence challenge and also I love it. Sure, I’ve been to Paris and thrived up surfing, and yes, I stop choose I’m in a commercial. But I’m simply favor the women you see walking on the side of the road through their laundry baskets and also their Bibles. I’m just choose the old guys pedaling their rusty bicycles. I’m no different from the males that drive your tractors or the womale that most likely elevated you. I’m simply favor them, no better and no worse. I’m babsence, Remy, which means everything and nothing.” By the end of the novel, we witness both the strain that racial difference can put on a relationship and also just how that partnership can mature.

That being shelp, the novel is not without flaws. After a measured and also carefully crafted opening, the book begins to move as well fast in the final third, rushing to its climax with a collection of brief, underarisen scenes. The character of Ralph Angel, though central to the novel, is never as fully alive as Charley, Miss Honey, Micah, or a handful of other much less prominent characters. His habits is, for the a lot of component, predictable, and we see his undoing in a collection of repetitive scenes in which he screws up aacquire and aobtain — shedding tasks that he deems are listed below him, shoplifting, doing drugs, failing to be a good parent to his boy — and his final downfall seems as well basic, a convenient way to create an unredeemable character out of the story and also out of Charley’s life.

In another troubling scene, after Micah athas a tendency the Sugarcane Festival and sees “Queen Sugar and her court — all young white women dressed in heels and also baby-doll dresses, their legs perfectly tanned — smiling their best debutante smiles and also waving giddily from the deck,” Charley appears overly grateful when Remy — finest friends via Queen Sugar’s father — arvarieties for Queen Sugar to visit Micah at her home and then take her as an honorary guest on the parade float. Lacking confidence in her appearance — as a result of a sautomobile from a burn, but likewise perhaps the shade of her skin — Micah is delighted to be contained among the white girls of the court. Yet provided Charley’s fierce strength and also self-esteem, her prouncovered comfort in her own skin, she would, it seems, be even more most likely to question whether her daughter have to aspire to the sort of feminine beauty that is put on public display and also that clearly values whiteness.

In spite of its shortcomings, Queen Sugar is an outstanding dehowever from a talented writer and also a fascinating look right into the world of the contemporary South.

Yelizaveta P. Renfro is the author of a book of nonfiction, Xylotheque: Essays (University of New Mexico Press, 2014), and a collection of brief stories, A Catalogue of Everything in the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2010). Her fiction and nonfiction have actually appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, North American Resee, Coloraperform Recheck out, Alaska Quarterly Recheck out, South Dakota Rewatch, Witness, Reader’s Digest, Blue Mesa Rewatch, So to Stop, and somewhere else. She holds an MFA from George Maboy College and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska.