“If the stars were made of gold, I’d dig up the sky.”
Black Sugar is a short novel which examines three generations of women and the tainting force of the legend of a pirate’s lost treasure. The novel begins with a chapter which describes the shipwreck of pirate Henry Morgan’s ship. The men are in a miserable state, ill, and starving; animals that fall into their hands don’t fare well. This seems to be a cursed voyage, and of course, it all ends badly.
The novel then moves forward 300 years to a village and the Otero family. They own a farm which isn’t exactly profitable, but it came cheap with the proviso that a small room on the ground floor remain untouched. Every year, the elderly former owner comes to the room carrying an empty bucket. She stays inside the locked room all day and “would fill her bucket with tears.”
The Oteros have one child: a daughter named Serena. Her life is dull and so perhaps it’s not surprising that she connects to the outside world through a wireless. She begins to imagine that some handsome stranger will arrive and rescue her from her boredom, but the only man to arrive is Severo Bracamonte. He’s there on a hunt for Captain Morgan’s treasure.
Over time, dreams are smashed only to be replaced by work, but when Serena and her husband, who begin making rum, adopt an orphan, life at the Otero farm starts to change.
Black Sugar begins with legend and dives into magical realism with the result that the story takes on a fable-like quality. Three generations of a Venezuelan family, are consumed, in various ways with the legend of Henry Morgan’s treasure. It’s clear that although the characters all have various relationships with the legend (seekers, hoarders) no-one escapes unscathed. As the beginning of the book indicates, treasure brings madness, and the fate of the Otero family is tied to the legend.
With its fable-like qualities, this is a seemingly simple story, but it’s entwined with violence, greed and various other dark human emotions. Ultimately, we see people whose lives are shaped by the legend of Henry Morgan’s treasure, and it’s a negative shaping force–a curse on those who seek it.
For animal lovers, there’s a very unpleasant scene involving a brutal chicken slaughter.
Translated by Emily Boyce