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Queen Sugar

Cover of Queen Sugar

Queen Sugar

A Novel
Borrow Borrow Borrow
The inspiration for the acclaimed OWN TV series produced by Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay, returning for season two on June 20th
"Smart and heartfelt and highly recommended." —Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

Readers, booksellers, and critics alike are embracing Queen Sugar and cheering for its heroine, Charley Bordelon, an African American woman and single mother struggling to build a new life amid the complexities of the contemporary South.
When Charley unexpectedly inherits eight hundred acres of sugarcane land, she and her eleven-year-old daughter say goodbye to smoggy Los Angeles and head to Louisiana. She soon learns, however, that cane farming is always going to be a white man's business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley struggles to balance the overwhelming challenges of a farm in decline with the demands of family and the startling desires of her own heart.
The inspiration for the acclaimed OWN TV series produced by Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay, returning for season two on June 20th
"Smart and heartfelt and highly recommended." —Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

Readers, booksellers, and critics alike are embracing Queen Sugar and cheering for its heroine, Charley Bordelon, an African American woman and single mother struggling to build a new life amid the complexities of the contemporary South.
When Charley unexpectedly inherits eight hundred acres of sugarcane land, she and her eleven-year-old daughter say goodbye to smoggy Los Angeles and head to Louisiana. She soon learns, however, that cane farming is always going to be a white man's business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley struggles to balance the overwhelming challenges of a farm in decline with the demands of family and the startling desires of her own heart.
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  • From the book

    ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***

    Copyright © 2014 by Natalie Baszile


    June

    1

    Three days ago, Charley Bordelon and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, locked up the rented Spanish bungalow with its cracked tile roof and tumble of punch-colored bougainvillea and left Los Angeles for good. In an old Volvo wagon with balding tires and a broken air conditioner, they followed the black vein of highway—first skirting the edge of Joshua Tree, where the roasted wind roared in their faces, then braving the Mojave Desert. They pushed through Arizona and New Mexico, and sailed over the Texas prairie.

    Twenty-four hours ago, they crossed into Louisiana where the cotton and rice fields stretched away in a lavish patchwork of pale greens and browns, and a hundred miles after that, where the rice and cotton fields yielded to the tropical landscape of sugarcane country.

    Now it was the next morning, their first full day in Saint Josephine Parish. They hadn't seen a house or car since they turned off the Old Spanish Trail, and the road, which crossed over the Bayou Teche, was leading them farther away from town, farther out into the country, and Charley—who'd never seen real sugarcane before yesterday—thought she should have trusted her instincts; thought that if she'd just listened to the small voice that whispered take the map, they'd be there by now. Instead, she had listened to her grandmother, Miss Honey, with whom she and Micah now lived. "Put that away," Miss Honey had said at breakfast that morning as Charley spread the map over the kitchen table. "I know how to get there. Just let me get my purse." Now here they were—Charley and Micah and Miss Honey—wandering hopelessly, like three blind stooges, through south Louisiana's cane country, creeping down one ragged back road till it dead-ended in a grass-choked gulley before trying another, while the sun got hotter and the air grew soupier; burning up precious time as they searched for the turnoff that would lead Charley to her fields. She had inherited eight hundred acres of sugarcane land from her father, Ernest. For the last ten months, she had pored over more aerial photos and assessors' maps than she cared to count, signed documents and placed phone calls. She had planned what she could from a distance. The fields Charley had thought of for almost a year were out there—somewhere. Land she had to get ready for the harvest in October. God help us, she thought.

    It was eight forty-five. Charley was supposed to meet Wayne Frasier at nine. The cup of Community Coffee, with its bitter note of chicory, had made her queasy. Maybe it was the coffee, but maybe not, Charley thought, as she remembered how her mother accused her of being a city girl and warned her not to make this move. Charley swore her mother was wrong, but now she thought maybe it was true. She was accustomed to measuring distance in freeway off-ramps, not hectares or miles, weighing things in pounds rather than bushels or tons. The only crop she had ever harvested were the Meyer lemons that hung lazily from the trees along her backyard fence. The only soil she ever tended came in bags from the Home Depot. She exhaled heavily. If she were a country girl, she thought, she could scan the horizon and know which of these godforsaken roads led to her fields. But she wasn't a country girl. Not even a little.

    Charley turned to her window and caught a scent of Louisiana on the June breeze; the aroma of red clay, peppery as cayenne, musty as compost, and beneath it, the hint of mildew and Gulf water. She marveled at how different...

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2013
    A debut novel about an African-American woman who struggles to salvage the Louisiana sugar cane farm she inherited from her father. Recently widowed, Charlotte "Charley" Bordelon feels compelled to take advantage of an odd inheritance from her father, Ernest. Unbeknownst to his family, Ernest had sold off his valuable California real estate holdings to purchase a failing sugar cane spread in his Louisiana birthplace. Now, Charley has no choice but to farm the land: Her father's trust prevents a sale. Going into meticulous and occasionally numbing detail, Baszile describes how Charley manages to find seasoned advisers to educate her on the mysteries of growing cane and how, with very little equipment, scant capital and much sweat over one steamy summer, the farm is gradually reclaimed from utter desuetude. But obstacles mount: Two local white corporate sugar moguls sling racial slurs and veiled threats. (As an African-American and a woman, Charley is a minority of one among the county's sugar cultivators.) A hurricane sets back months of arduous weeding and planting. A white colleague is proving dangerously attractive, until he makes a racially insensitive remark. But Charley's main hurdles are closer to home. Her grandmother, Miss Honey, with whom she and daughter Micah are living, can be irascible and stubborn; her favorite aunt, antagonized by Miss Honey, stays away, but Charley's chief nemesis is her older half brother Ralph Angel, also widowed. Resentful about being cut out of Ernest's will (presumably since he squandered his father's money on a drug habit), he has shown up, with his son Blue in tow, to pressure Charley to share her marginally profitable legacy. More detail on past traumas, for example, the profound depression that led Charley to neglect her daughter and the drug addiction that resulted in the death of Ralph Angel's wife, would have deepened readers' understanding of these characters' present behavior. Although the pace can be as slow as a humid bayou afternoon, the conflicts eventually ignite, leading to a cathartic close.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2013
    Winner of the Hurston/Wright College Writer's Award and a runner-up in the Faulkner Pirate's Alley novel-in-progress competition, this work about an African American woman who inherits 800 acres of sugarcane land in Louisiana is already getting good feedback from early readers.

    Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Queen Sugar
A Novel
Natalie Baszile
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