A couple weeks ago, Natalie Baszile came to Santa Monica College, her alma mater, to talk about writing and her novel Queen Sugar. I wasn’t able to attend the talk, but the email promotion made me want to pick up the book from this former student.
In this novel, the protagonist Charley, inherits a large acreage of sugar cane in Louisiana from her recently deceased father. A widow who has only known Los Angeles, Charley sells everything and takes her adolescent daughter with her to the farm, visiting her father’s family and trying to maintain the crop. As Charley enters Louisiana with the hope that farming will be an easy transition, she quickly learns how much she will have to struggle to salvage her crop and prepare for harvesting, all the while trying to keep her family together, and dealing with estranged relatives.
Baszile writes a fascinating story about overcoming hardship and trying something completely foreign. There are some stock characters that Charley meets and we completely fall in love with. To me, this becomes reminiscent of Dickensian characters, where they are built bad and good and stay that way until the end. One of the more interesting characters to me was Ralph Angel, Charley’s half-brother, who never had as good a life as she did. He’s volatile yet caring, someone that the family walks around cautiously, not knowing when or how he will explode. In addition, I enjoyed the revelations that came about concerning challenging topics of sexism and racism. There are moments where people become uncomfortable, but they push through them successfully. I admired how Baszile’s novel worked through those moments.
I personally wasn’t entranced with the writing style of this novel the way I have been with other writers. It felt like more was told than shown. Nonetheless, I felt the story was unique and inspiring. Plus, I noticed that the OWN network is planning to produce it as a television series, and I can definitely see how this story would make for an interesting plot on television.