BIG SUGAR: Seasons in the Canefields of Florida by Alec Wilkinson

BIG SUGAR: Seasons in the Canefields of Florida

Email this review


At times an overly detailed account of sugar production in South Florida, at others a curiously hazy picture of the West Indian workers who harvest the cane and are exploited by the growers. The author of Midnights (1982) and Moonshine (1985) has failed here to bring into focus an overall theme for his work. When Wilkinson deals with such matters as the lobbying of the National Corn Growers Association and the growers of cane and beet sugar to sustain artificially high prices, he is revealing and pertinent. Too frequently, however, his material seems generalized and arbitrary. Part of the problem undoubtedly stems from the fact that Wilkinson's sources in the field were reluctant to cooperate with him--the growers themselves because it was obvious that an expos‚ of their labor practices was in the works, the cane-cutters because they feared for their precarious jobs. As a result, Wilkinson is repeatedly forced to fall back on statistics: types of soil suitable for cane, acreages planted, methods of irrigation and harvesting. When he turns his attention to the personal lives of the mainly Jamaican workers, the entries are generally of this sort: ""We went to a bar but the man we wanted to question wouldn't talk."" The final impression is one of a potentially explosive subject that fizzles away in a damp squib of agricultural facts, labor history, and inconsequential personal investigation. Wilkinson's writing is, as usual, accomplished; but, overall, this is a disappointment--well-intentioned but foiled early on.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1989
Publisher: Knopf