Queen Sugar is an intriguing new novel about Charley, an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. http://nataliebaszile.com/book/. The author, Natalie Baszile, is not a Louisiana native. Her father was born in southern Louisiana, and much of his extended family still lives there. But while she often visited on vacations and holidays, Natalie grew up in Southern California and currently lives in San Francisco. She comes to writing as a scholar, the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, having studied at UCLA and Warren Wilson College. So even though she writes about the South, she is not a “typical” Southern woman. When I asked if she considered herself a Southern woman, she replied, “I have a Southern Heart.” Indeed she does. And at the end of the day, that Southern Heart is what unites us as Southern women; that spirit not defined by zip code, politics, race, religion, socioeconomics, or any of a number of other tiresome labels.
In Queen Sugar, Ms. Baszile portrays the South as She really is. She has no truck with stereotypes and plows deliberately through to the underlying truths about the lives of her characters. Through Charley’s eyes, we experience the outlandish beauty of the South as well as its senseless injustices. We feel the gravitational pull of Southern family bonds and the joys of unexpected friendships. We are outfoxed by the seductive Southern charm that blankets pain with an illusory veil. We confront our unrecognized prejudices. And through Charley’s trials, we witness the outrageous persistence of Southern women in the face of hardship.
Here is one of my favorite passages from the book: “Because life should be as simple as a bucket of fish caught a few miles offshore and a van full of produce bought at a roadside stand. It should be as sweet as a cube of melon the color of your heart.” (Ch. 6)
This is not a book review. But Queen Sugar goes on my list of favorites. If you’re looking for a beautifully written story with an engaging plot that presents an authentic picture of the present-day South, here it is. It’s an honor to claim Natalie Baszile in the sisterhood of Real Southern Women.