Title: Queen Sugar
Author: Natalie Baszile
Genre: : Mystery, Contemporary literature, Domestic Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: 11/05/19
Nominations: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile is a riveting family drama that follows Charley Bordelon, a widowed black single mother from California moving with her daughter, Micah, to her father’s hometown in the rural south after discovering that he has sold all his California properties to purchase a struggling 800 acre sugar cane farm in Louisiana. The land held in trust precludes her selling or the proceeds will go to charity. On this premise that exposes the complicated, loving, yet controlling relationship between Charley and her father we along with Charley and Micah are sucked into the realities of rural Louisiana, the intricacies and back breaking labor of running a successful cane farm, Charley’s colorful family, the tense realities of an industry dominated by white men who are the sons of the sons of plantation owners.
This book didn’t shy away from digging into the social realities and struggles of the rural south and I trusted Baszile’s handling of these difficult subjects implicitly from the beginning and she never let me down. I was particularly impressed with her handling of Charley’s romantic relationship with Remy, a white sugar cane farmer, Baszile did not shy away from all of the biases and cultural assumptions and even casual racism that have to be tackled in an interracial relationship and I appreciated that she didn’t sugarcoat the situation.
In parallel to Charley’s story is that of her half-brother Ralph Angel, also widowed and raising his son Blue, except due to dropping out of college and stealing tuition money to fuel his drug habit he was cut out of the will by their father. While Charley’s story is one of successfully adapting to every challenge that life throws at her, with pluck, creativity, a lot of damned stubborn, and never being afraid to reach out to family and friends for support, Ralph Angel’s is a lament of a man who has been so traumatized that he is, at his core, too fragile to face what his life has become and what he might need to do to turn it around. His story is not a triumph, it is the bitter counter note needed to balance the tale, to remind us that even in a feel good save the farm story, nothing is that simple, and there is always grief, and we live with the consequences of our actions and those of the people around us. Ralph Angel is a reminder of how the deck is stacked, that Charley’s triumphs are as much luck as anything, and that it can all be lost just as quickly.
I listened to this as an audio book and have to say the narrator did a beautiful job, her voice really helped drag me into the narrative.