Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Book review : Black Sugar - Miguel Bonnefoy

Black Sugar by Miguel Bonnefoy is an original and thought-provoking read that begins with a pirate ship stranded in the canopy of a tropical rainforest. On board is Captain Henry Morgan, on his death bed, surrounded by the riches he has accumulated throughout his lifetime as a pirate - treasures that he is willing to fight for to the very end, even if it means that everyone on board is doomed because their weight will send the boat crashing to the jungle floor below. How did they end up there? Who knows ! Should it be taken literally or is this supposed to be something symbolic? This is a question that you will ask yourself many times as you turn the pages of the novel, which often reads as a parable, warning against the dangers of greed and the folly of looking for unnecessary treasures when you already have everything you need and want closer to home.

Three centuries after the shipwreck (although we have no idea of any specific dates), a succession of treasure hunters, including a young man called Severo Bracamonte, arrives at the Otero family's farm in a remote Venezuelan village, looking for the legendary pirate's lost riches. Time has stood still in this peaceful backwater and the villagers are happy with their lot, living uneventful but content lives. Offering to share his finds with the Oteros in return for their hospitality, Severo soon awakens new desires and ambitions, especially in Serena, their young daughter, who dreams of finding a prince charming rather than pirate loot. 

Despite an inauspicious start, the pair grow close and the book follows their story, and that of their daughter, over many years, finding wealth through developing their sugar cane and rum business, rather than unearthing lost treasures. Serena does strike gold in an unexpected way when she finally receives her much sought-after child, but finding your heart's desire can sometimes turn sour.

 Miguel Bonnefoy is a French author, but the text has been beautifully translated by Emily Boyce so you never get the sense that you are reading a translated work. The author has a Venezuelan mother and a Chilean father and, as well as following the story of several generations of one Venezuelan family, it also seems like reading a potted history of the entire country.

The book is only just over 200 pages long, but it is a small book packed with big ideas : legendary pirates, strong women, life lessons about greed and looking for the wrong treasures, a tender portrayal of Venezuela, ...

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Gallic Books; Translation edition (15 Mar. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910477524
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910477526
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

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