Monday, April 14, 2014

#BookReview: Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

Why would anyone leave the bright lights and big city feel of Los Angeles for a small, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” town in southern Louisiana? If you’re Charley Bordelon, it’s because you’ve inherited eight hundred acres of sugarcane land from your late father; land you didn’t even know existed before his death. Far braver and more confident than most, Charley takes on the farm, doubters and her own fears.

With Charley, Baszile deals with the socioeconomic and racial divides of America. Coming from L.A., Charley is already an odd duck in Louisiana. Adding her privileged upbringing, her brown skin  and the fact that she's a woman in a world dominated by white men sets her apart from the rest even more. Immediately the other farmers, and even some of her family members, doubt that she’ll be able to plant and harvest the fields together in time.

While Charley’s story is interesting, I was much more interested in that of her derelict brother, Ralph Angel. Where Charley is educated, sensible and by the book, Ralph Angel is spur of the moment, resentful and spontaneous. From the time we meet him, he makes bad decisions but refuses to take the blame for them. It’s always someone else’s fault. As we learn his back story, it becomes evident that his resentment of Charley (and the world, in general) comes from a feeling that Charley was given opportunities that he wasn’t. Wallowing in a whirl of self-pity, coupled with coddling by Miss Honey, their grandmother, Ralph Angel was destined to become the terror that he ends up being. In a society where we love our sons and raise our daughters, it seems that Miss Honey is the biggest culprit in how Ralph Angel has turned out and, fully recognizing this, continues to make excuses for him and see the goodness in him where all others see the truth. 

The descriptions of the cane fields and Louisiana reminded me of Attica Locke’s wonderful book, The Cutting Season. Both ladies have done a great job of bringing the fields and bayous of Louisiana to life. I can’t recommend Queen Sugar enough.

Published: February 2014

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