Natalie Baszile: Queen Sugar

Why exactly Charley Bordelon’s late father left her eight hundred sprawling acres of sugarcane land in rural Louisiana is as mysterious as it was generous. Recognizing this as a chance to start over, Charley and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, say good-bye to Los Angeles.

They arrive just in time for growing season but no amount of planning can prepare Charley for a Louisiana that’s mired in the past: as her judgmental but big-hearted grandmother tells her, cane farming is always going to be a white man’s business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley must balance the overwhelming challenges of her farm with the demands of a homesick daughter, a bitter and troubled brother, and the startling desires of her own heart.

#OwnVoicesOctober is all about bringing marginalized voices to the forefront. We need to hear from these authors about the issues that matter to them, through characters that represent their culture and lives. I’m so glad I read Queen Sugar at the start of this incredible month, because Natalie Baszile raises so many points that I need to focus on.

As a farmer’s daughter, I connected right away with Charley. My daddy raised tomatoes, corn, and soybeans, but the love of the land is the same. The tractors breaking down, the uncontrollable weather, finding reliable help–all that is the same no matter what you are planting. It hooked me right away.

The story isn’t just about the farming, though. It’s hard enough to gain respect as a black farmer in the area, but to do it as a woman too is damn near impossible. So many people are betting against her, trying to buy her prime land from her, and she just keeps going.

There are two issues in Queen Sugar that I am not qualified to write about, but that seem to be themes of the book. I’m going to mention them for analysis, but I am taking these to do study for myself, too.

  1. Charley gets frustrated about being the “race police.” She has many conversations in this book about being black and from California, and not what people “expect” a black person to be like.
  2. There seemed to be a line drawn in the sand between Charley and Ralph Angel–someone who had a privileged life, and someone who did not–from Ralph Angels’ perspective at least. The line drawn in the sand from Charley’s perspective is different:  someone who made all the right choices, and someone who made all the wrong ones. It could be a little bit of both. This is definitely the most interesting theme of the book, though.

I dove pretty deeply into the themes of Queen Sugar, since I’m reading this for #OwnVoicesOctoberbut this really is a great story. Just try not to overlook the message that Natalie Baszile is laying out, especially if you are white. Pay attention to Charley’s conversations with Remy. And then try to apply it to your own conversations. I am sure going to.

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