A debut novel about an African-American woman who struggles to salvage the Louisiana sugar cane farm she inherited from her father.
Recently widowed, Charlotte “Charley” Bordelon feels compelled to take advantage of an odd inheritance from her father, Ernest. Unbeknownst to his family, Ernest had sold off his valuable California real estate holdings to purchase a failing sugar cane spread in his Louisiana birthplace. Now, Charley has no choice but to farm the land: Her father’s trust prevents a sale. Going into meticulous and occasionally numbing detail, Baszile describes how Charley manages to find seasoned advisers to educate her on the mysteries of growing cane and how, with very little equipment, scant capital and much sweat over one steamy summer, the farm is gradually reclaimed from utter desuetude. But obstacles mount: Two local white corporate sugar moguls sling racial slurs and veiled threats. (As an African-American and a woman, Charley is a minority of one among the county’s sugar cultivators.) A hurricane sets back months of arduous weeding and planting. A white colleague is proving dangerously attractive, until he makes a racially insensitive remark. But Charley’s main hurdles are closer to home. Her grandmother, Miss Honey, with whom she and daughter Micah are living, can be irascible and stubborn; her favorite aunt, antagonized by Miss Honey, stays away, but Charley’s chief nemesis is her older half brother Ralph Angel, also widowed. Resentful about being cut out of Ernest’s will (presumably since he squandered his father’s money on a drug habit), he has shown up, with his son Blue in tow, to pressure Charley to share her marginally profitable legacy. More detail on past traumas, for example, the profound depression that led Charley to neglect her daughter and the drug addiction that resulted in the death of Ralph Angel’s wife, would have deepened readers’ understanding of these characters’ present behavior.
Although the pace can be as slow as a humid bayou afternoon, the conflicts eventually ignite, leading to a cathartic close.