Synopses & Reviews
In the late 1630s, lured by the promise of the New World, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor, George Ashby, set sail from England to settle in Barbados. He fell into the life of a sugar plantation owner by mere chance, but by the time he harvested his first crop, a revolution was fully under way: the farming of sugar cane, and the swiftly increasing demands for sugar worldwide, would not only lift George Ashby from abject poverty and shape the lives of his descendants, but it would also bind together ambitious white entrepreneurs and enslaved black workers in a strangling embrace. Stuart uses her own family story—from the seventeenth century through the present—as the pivot for this epic tale of migration, settlement, survival, slavery and the making of the Americas.
As it grew, the sugar trade enriched Europe as never before, financing the Industrial Revolution and fuelling the Enlightenment. And, as well, it became the basis of many economies in South America, played an important part in the evolution of the United States as a world power and transformed the Caribbean into an archipelago of riches. But this sweet and hugely profitable trade—“white gold,” as it was known—had profoundly less palatable consequences in its precipitation of the enslavement of Africans to work the fields on the islands and, ultimately, throughout the American continents. Interspersing the tectonic shifts of colonial history with her family’s experience, Stuart explores the interconnected themes of settlement, sugar and slavery with extraordinary subtlety and sensitivity. In examining how these forces shaped her own family—its genealogy, intimate relationships, circumstances of birth, varying hues of skin—she illuminates how her family, among millions of others like it, in turn transformed the society in which they lived, and how that interchange continues to this day. Shifting between personal and global history, Stuart gives us a deepened understanding of the connections between continents, between black and white, between men and women, between the free and the enslaved. It is a story brought to life with riveting and unparalleled immediacy, a story of fundamental importance to the making of our world.
"Doing research in the air-conditioned Barbados Museum, acclaimed writer Stuart (The Rose of Martinique) stumbles upon her maternal grandfather eight times removed, George Ashby, who migrated to the island from England in the late 1630s. Brilliantly weaving together threads of family history, political history, social history, and agricultural history into a vivid quilt covering the evolution of sugar 'white gold' and slavery and sugar's impact on the development of Barbados as well as on her own family. Stuart recreates her ancestors' lives vividly as she tries to imagine how arduous and challenging life would have been for them, especially in Ashby's case, and as the island grew as the lust for sugar developed. Sugar cane first came to the island in 1620, but it was only around 20 years later that the first sugar factory was built. Since the process of cultivating sugar was more arduous and expensive and required more labor than growing tobacco, planters soon started buying slaves to bolster their labor forces and very quickly the black population of Barbados outnumbered the white. Stuart imagines the uneasiness that would have existed in the Ashbys' household between whites and blacks, slaves and free, just as it did in other farms on the island. Stuart powerfully concludes that the legacy of sugar boom and the slave trade in the Caribbean are not so easily forgotten, for sugar 'has shaped our economies and national identities, and by pulling together the unique racial mix of the islands,' the transformation wrought by sugar and slavery is 'written across our very faces' and the politics of color. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the author of an acclaimed biography of Josephine Bonaparte: a stunning history of the interdependence of sugar, slavery, and colonial settlement in the New World—from the seventeenth century to the present—which is, as well, a spellbinding family memoir.
Andrea Stuart uses her own family story as the pivot of an epic tale, examining the ways in which the sugar crop cultivated on the island of Barbados created nations, enriched Europe beyond its wildest imaginings, and precipitated the enslavement of the millions of Africans in the Americas. Interspersing the tectonic shifts of colonial history with her own ancestors' experiences, Stuart explores, with subtlety and sensitivity, how this one particular commodity has shaped the destiny of her family—its identity, genealogy, place of origin, varying hues of skin—and how our hunger for it has mobilized forces that converged to shape the world for four centuries and counting.
About the Author
Andrea Stuart was born and raised in the Caribbean. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and French at the Sorbonne. Her book The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine was published in the United States in 2004, has been translated into three languages and won the Enid McLeod Literary Prize. Stuart’s work has been published in numerous anthologies, newspapers and magazines, and she regularly reviews books for The Independent. She has also worked as a TV producer.