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…
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*