cover image The Taste of Sugar

The Taste of Sugar

Marisel Vera. Liveright, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-63149-773-5

Vera (If I Bring You Roses) follows the shifting fortunes of a Puerto Rican family after U.S. occupation in this intense, emotional saga. In 1889, 17-year-old Valentina Sanchez, head full of fantasies of Paris trips and grand romance, marries handsome coffee farmer Vicente Vega despite her family’s objections. She returns with him to his unwelcoming family in Utuado, where the vagaries of the coffee harvest delay their move from the isolated mountains. After three years, they move into a crudely built home, where happy times are overshadowed by the accidental death of their young daughter. When Vicente loses his farm in 1900 due to economic hardships following American occupation, the family leaves for Hawaii to work on sugar plantations. A series of tragedies and indignities ensues—the couple’s son drowns at sea on the way to the islands, and they’re greeted in Hawaii by squalid living conditions—before Vera ends the book on a slightly hopeful, if unresolved note, as the family bonds with other Puerto Rican families in Hawaii. Vera pieces together the epic tale with acute moments of crushing pain and disillusion overcome by the strong characters’ implacable resilience. The novel’s deeply felt mixture of the characters’ sorrow and joy offers a vibrant glimpse of the history of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii. Agent: Betsy Amster, Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises. (Jun.)

Correction: The author's last name was misspelled in two instances in an earlier version of this review.