Sunday, December 28, 2014

'Queen Sugar' great examination of sugarcane farming, family relationships

Update: "Queen Sugar" will be made into a new series for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network!

             Charley Bordelon’s father leaves her an unusual gift in his will — 800 acres of sugarcane land in rural South Louisiana. There are strange stipulations as well, meaning the urban school teacher must meet the challenge of raising cane, to borrow a pun, or lose the property. Against her mother’s wishes and her own good judgment, Bordelon leaves Los Angeles for Louisiana and her travails in the Bayou State make up “Queen Sugar,” a novel by Natalie Baszile.
            Bordelon brings along her young teen daughter, who’s not happy with the move, and they make due at her grandmother’s home. Her Louisiana family offers assistance but the job of turning around a neglected sugarcane farm proves to be an enormous challenge. When Bordelon’s half brother, a con artist fighting inner demons, shows up with his son, tension moves up a few notches and continues throughout the story.
            The novel offers an excellent education in the production of sugarcane. Bordelon must face excessive rains and mold, clearing out blocked waterways, planting and replanting cane — even a hurricane. Through stubborn determination to make the farm successful, facing racism and established landowners wanting to buy her out, Bordelon finds help and a way even though the process is long and tedious.
            Baszile studied Afro American Studies at UCLA and earned an MFA at the Warren Wilson Program for Writers in North Carolina. She lives in San Francisco but it’s obvious she spent time in Louisiana among cane farmers and residents, acquiring authentic information and learning proper dialogue cadence without the stereotypical accents so many out-of-towners insert.


Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.