cover image Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire

Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire

Andrea Stuart. Knopf, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-307-27283-6

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%E2%80%94"white gold"%E2%80%94and 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.)