Charley Bordelon is a widow and single-mother. When she inherits a sugarcane farm from her father she opts to leave her failed life in LA behind, pack up and move in with her grandmother in Louisiana. Unbeknownst to Charley her grandmother has also invited her half-brother, Ralph Angel, to stay – a bitter man angry at being excluded from his father’s will. As tensions escalate at home, Charley must also contend with a host of problems on her new farm. Between the acres of neglected and dying crop and her hostile neighbours both black and white, she soon wonders if this is a feat she can pull off.
The notion of a black woman owning a sugarcane farm in the Deep South a century after The Great Migration lends itself wholly to drama and conflict. When you throw in a bunch of charismatic relatives the stakes get even higher and the end result is highly compelling.
I found Charley flawed and relatable and could only admire her tenacity:
“She joined the crew, pulling armloads of cane stalks off the back of the wagon. The men looked at her as though she’d lost her mind, whispered in Spanish, but there was no time to explain.”
The writing is packed with sensory observations that transported me into the Louisiana heat:
“Charley raised the dirt to her mouth again. She sniffed: wood, smoke, grass, damp like a sidewalk after it rained. She tasted grit, fine as ground glass, chocolate, and what? Maybe ash? She closed her eyes as soil dissolved over her tongue, and slowly, slowly, almost like a good wine, the soil began to tell its story.”
Queen Sugar is a story of transformation, of courage, of redemption and of living your best life. An absorbing gem of a tale.
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile