Queen Sugar

/ posted in: Reading Queen SugarQueen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
on February 6th 2014
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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A mother-daughter story of reinvention—about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. Why exactly Charley Bordelon’s late father left her eight hundred sprawling acres of sugarcane land in rural Louisiana is as mysterious as it was generous. Recognizing this as a chance to start over, Charley and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, say good-bye to Los Angeles. They arrive just in time for growing season but no amount of planning can prepare Charley for a Louisiana that’s mired in the past: as her judgmental but big-hearted grandmother tells her, cane farming is always going to be a white man’s business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley must balance the overwhelming challenges of her farm with the demands of a homesick daughter, a bitter and troubled brother, and the startling desires of her own heart.

I’m not normally a fan of books that use extensive descriptions, especially on audio.  However, this book used descriptions to firmly root you in Louisiana and the cane fields.

Charley Bordelon’s father grew up poor in Louisiana.  His dream was to escape to California.  Right before he planned to leave he impregnated the girl he was dating.  That child’s name was Ralph Angel and he grew up with his mother in Louisiana.

Mr. Bordelon did go to California and became wealthy in real estate.  (I wish the book had explained how that happened.)  He married an upper class woman and then had Charlotte, who they called Charley.  She grew up privileged in California.  Ralph Angel came to live with them but was sent back to Louisiana after making several attempts to hurt baby Charley.

Now their father has died and Charley and Ralph Angel are reunited in their grandmother’s house in Louisiana.  Charley is there because her father left her a sugar cane farm that she didn’t know he had.  She is an art teacher and knows nothing about farming.  She is a widow and has a daughter.  She needs to start her life over and thinks that this farm may help.  She doesn’t realize that her father’s absentee landowner status has allowed the manager to get out of keeping up the farm.

Ralph Angel was living in Arizona with his son following the death of his wife.  He is broke and drives a stolen rental car back to Louisiana to stay with family.  He is furious that his father cut him out of the will and is determined to get his share from Charley.


Charley – She’s a hard worker and is willing to throw herself into whatever needs to be done for the farm.  Sometimes she’s a frustrating character because she doesn’t always listen to the advice of people she should and sometimes she lets herself get pushed around by people she shouldn’t.

Micah – Charley’s daughter is horrible.  I get that she is mad because she’s gone from a rich life with her grandmother in California to backwoods Louisiana but she’s a brat.  I think that she is a realistic portrait of a girl that age though.

Ralph Angel – Oh, I hated him!  He thinks that he is entitled to everything with no effort of his own.  He refuses several jobs because they are beneath his inflated opinion of himself.  He has no skills and no work ethic.  He is mean to everyone but his son.

Miss Honey – She is Charley and Ralph Angel’s grandmother.  She helped raise Ralph Angel and will hear no bad spoken of him even when it is a truth she should be facing.

 


Overall, I really liked this book.  I know more about sugar cane farming than I ever expected to know!

Feature photo from here

About Natalie Baszile

Natalie has a M.A. in Afro-American Studies from UCLA, and is a graduate of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers where she was a Holden Minority Scholar. An early version of Queen Sugar won the Hurston Wright College Writer’s Award, was a co-runner up in the Faulkner Pirate’s Alley Novel-in-Progress competition, and excerpts were published in Cairn and ZYZZYVA. She has had residencies at the Ragdale Foundation where she was awarded the Sylvia Clare Brown fellowship, Virginia Center for the Arts, and Hedgebrook. Her non-fiction work has appeared in The Rumpus.net, Mission at Tenth, and in The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 9. She is a former fiction editor at The Cortland Review, and is a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Natalie grew up in Southern California and lives in San Francisco with her family.