Anne Bonny #BookReview Black Sugar by Miguel Bonnefoy #NewRelease #LiteraryFiction @BelgraviaB Escape to #Venezuela and get lost amongst the stories of #Pirates. 5*

Black Sugar by Miguel Bonnefoy
Translated by Emily Boyce


Miguel Bonnefoy’s colourful tale of a family’s changing fortunes is also the fascinating story of Venezuela’s development over the course of the 20th century.

On the edge of the Latin American rainforest, the Oteros family farm sugar cane in their remote corner of the earth.

Cut off entirely from the modern world, life is peaceful, uneventful. Until, that is, a succession of ships arrive in search of Henry Morgan’s legendary lost treasure, said to be buried deep beneath the forest floor.

Soon, the isolated villagers are exposed to all the trappings of modernity, while the travellers’ search for booty unearths more than anybody could have anticipated…

And so it was that the treasure lay buried amid scraps of sail and a pirate’s corpse, preserved within the belly of the Caribbean…

My Review:

I think I have said it a few times on my blog, that I LOVE pirates. Treasure Island was my favourite childhood novel, and this ultimately led to the name I gave my blog. Anne Bonny was a real life female pirate, she was feisty, cunning and outwitted them all! Love her! When I was asked to review Black Sugar, I couldn’t type yes quick enough!
So here it is, me hearties……

‘In a hanged man’s home there’s no talk of ropes’

The novel opens with a scene from three centuries previously. When Pirates ran the seas and Captain Henry Morgan was at the height of his piracy success. But as we read on, we learn that treasure and happiness, don’t always go hand in hand.

‘Amid the stench of misery, hunger, rotten meat and inedible biscuit, a treasure trove languished beneath the muddy planks like an angel at the bottom of a pigsty’

Captain Henry Morgan is facing mutiny across his crew. They are starving to the point of a revolt. Battered by a storm, the crew needs guidance. What they have, is a captain obsessed with his own loot. They begin to hunt and even enjoy a barbequed sloth. But the inevitable draws near and they need to clear the ship. Which means separating the captain and his treasure…..

‘The treasure lay buried amid scraps of soil and a pirate’s corpse, preserved within the belly of the Caribbean’

Three centuries later. . .
In a village built where a pirate’s boat disappeared, live the Otero family. The father Ezequiel, mother Candeloria and young daughter Serena. The family live in a community where rum, bananas and sugar cane are farmed. The young daughter Serena is a solitary girl, often spotted observing others. She becomes quite intrigued by the local medium Dr Esmeralda Cadenas. Even going as far to create her own pseudonym of Maria Dolores. Her obsessions with spirituality fizzles out and then one day a young man arrives….
Severo Bracamonte a strange young traveller, gains the families curiosity when he speaks of pirate’s treasure. Promising a share in the loot, for board, he immediately gains Serena’s parents trust.

‘The advantage to being poor, is you can only get richer’

Serena on the other hand, is far from impressed. She finds the man to be rather ugly and lacking in intelligence. She is not easily fooled by any man.

‘It takes more than talent to find treasure’ – Serena

Severo begins his quest by scouring maps, details of expeditions and piracy legends. Months later, he has found nothing but the marble statue of Diana the hunter. But combining his knowledge with Serena’s knowledge of botany, the pair grow close.
The relationship blooms and the man who once declared ‘He didn’t want to be loved; he wanted to be rich’ Has a new desire. A desire to start a family, over a desire to hunt for treasure. However, for the two young treasure hunters….

‘Even in love, you can’t have everything’

The novel is essentially the love story of Serena and Severo. The trials and tribulations, they face and their deep love for one another. But as with all good pirate stories, the desire for treasure remains. Only the desire of Captain Morgan’s treasure will span centuries and generations.

The writing is simply beautiful. If I wasn’t already obsessed with all things pirate, this could easily sway me! I have noted many clever little descriptive quotes. But to include them all, would create spoilers. The author has written female characters incredibly well and this novel is the perfect escapism.

The novel is short, at just 207 pages. But there is much room for debates and discussion. Especially around the theme of, the love/desire for wealth corrupting individuals. I think that would make this an excellent choice for book clubs.

Escape to Venezuela and get lost amongst the stories of pirates. 5*

Miguel Bonnefoy

Anne Bonny #BookReview My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent #Literary @4thEstateBooks A dark, painful and haunting literary novel 4.5*

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

‘You think you’re invincible. You think you won’t ever miss. We need to put the fear on you. You need to surrender yourself to death before you ever begin, and accept your life as a state of grace, and then and only then will you be good enough.’

At 14, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall;
That chaos is coming and only the strong will survive it;
That her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world.
And he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her with him.

She doesn’t know why she feels so different from the other girls at school;
Why the line between love and pain can be so hard to see;
Why making a friend may be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done
And what her daddy will do when he finds out …

Sometimes strength is not the same as courage.
Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape.
Sometimes surviving isn’t enough.

My Review:

You won’t meet many protagonists quite like Turtle Alveston. What makes Turtle so unique, is what draws you in and won’t let go. I became fascinated with seeing how life worked out for this young woman. Yet at times her story haunted me, with its darkness. It is definitely not for the faint of heart….

Julia Alveston aka Turtle is 14yrs old. She is struggling at school and has a twisted relationship with her father. They live in the rural isolation of Slaughterhouse Creek. Turtle is both socially and emotionally isolated. When I heard her internal dialogue, I was not only shocked. But I wanted to reach out to her and protect her, where others have failed to do so. Her teacher and grandfather are aware that things are not as they should be at home. But both feel that without confirmation there is little that can be done.

‘Misogyny, isolation, watchfulness. These are three big red flags’ Anna – Turtle’s teacher.

“Goddamn it Martin, this is no way to raise a little girl” – Grandpa

What follows is a novel that is vague, yet descriptive and subtle yet heart-breaking. The isolation, survival strategies and fear of Turtle’s father Martin, take over. It is obvious he claims ownership of Turtle and it becomes a battle of wills.
As one young girl is desperate to retain control of her most valued possession, her mind!

‘Her mind cannot be taken by force’

The rural setting really adds to the scene of this broken family and Turtle’s father’s obsession with the ‘end of the world’. Whilst he shows concern for the outer world and their ignorance. He doesn’t take responsibility for how his own attitudes and values, undermine Turtle’s basic emotional fundamentals. There is often a simmering silence in the house and you feel on edge as you turn the page. Wondering what shocking abuse, you will be forced to bear witness to next.

‘He is a big silent presence beside her’

But things begin to change one day for Turtle, when she stumbles across two young boys lost in the woods. Brett and Jacob show Turtle a world that is previously unknown to her. They show her what it is to be a typical teenager about the small town they live in. She is as drawn to them, as they are to her. With Jacob being her intellectual equal, we see in Turtle’s beliefs. Her internal thoughts on women are challenged, and she finally has the opportunity to question if this is how she wants to live.

‘This is me. This is who I am, and this is where I live’ – Turtle

When Turtle’s father discovers her meetings with Jacob, he is furious. You get the sense he feels a slip, in his control over his daughter. He berates her using the term ‘you are mine’ and the violence, ownership and threats continue. There’s a moment in the novel where Turtle goes to sleep thinking of her father’s hatred of her. This moved me to tears and I thought, what could be more painful to a girl with no mother….

Sometimes it takes getting lost to be saved!

I’ve struggled to put my words together to compose my review. It took several days to actually process, what I had just read. A psychologist would have a field day with Turtle. But that’s not the intention of this novel, the idea is to see things through the eyes of Turtle Alveston. They are heavy, painful and weary eyes. But they are worthy, nonetheless.
A dark, painful and haunting literary novel 4.5*

Gabriel Tallent