Natalie Baszile has an MA in Afro American Studies from UCLA and earned an MFA at the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. She lives in San Francisco with her family.
Excerpt from book:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Natalie Baszile
Three days ago, Charley Bordelon and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, locked up the rented Spanish bungalow with its cracked tile roof and tumble of punch-colored bougainvillea and left Los Angeles for good. In an old Volvo wagon with balding tires and a broken air conditioner, they followed the black vein of highway—first skirting the edge of Joshua Tree, where the roasted wind roared in their faces, then braving the Mojave Desert. They pushed through Arizona and New Mexico, and sailed over the Texas prairie.
Twenty-four hours ago, they crossed into Louisiana where the cotton and rice fields stretched away in a lavish patchwork of pale greens and browns, and a hundred miles after that, where the rice and cotton fields yielded to the tropical landscape of sugarcane country.
Now it was the next morning, their first full day in Saint Josephine Parish. They hadn’t seen a house or car since they turned off the Old Spanish Trail, and the road, which crossed over the Bayou Teche, was leading them farther away from town, farther out into the country, and Charley—who’d never seen real sugarcane before yesterday—thought she should have trusted her instincts; thought that if she’d just listened to the small voice that whispered take the map, they’d be there by now. Instead, she had listened to her grandmother, Miss Honey, with whom she and Micah now lived. “Put that away,” Miss Honey had said at breakfast that morning as Charley spread the map over the kitchen table. “I know how to get there. Just let me get my purse.” Now here they were—Charley and Micah and Miss Honey—wandering hopelessly, like three blind stooges, through south Louisiana’s cane country, creeping down one ragged back road till it dead-ended in a grass-choked gulley before trying another, while the sun got hotter and the air grew soupier; burning up precious time as they searched for the turnoff that would lead Charley to her fields. She had inherited eight hundred acres of sugarcane land from her father, Ernest. For the last ten months, she had pored over more aerial photos and assessors’ maps than she cared to count, signed documents and placed phone calls. She had planned what she could from a distance. The fields Charley had thought of for almost a year were out there—somewhere. Land she had to get ready for the harvest in October. God help us, she thought.
It was eight forty-five. Charley was supposed to meet Wayne Frasier at nine. The cup of Community Coffee, with its bitter note of chicory, had made her queasy. Maybe it was the coffee, but maybe not, Charley thought, as she remembered how her mother accused her of being a city girl and warned her not to make this move. Charley swore her mother was wrong, but now she thought maybe it was true. She was accustomed to measuring distance in freeway off-ramps, not hectares or miles, weighing things in pounds rather than bushels or tons. The only crop she had ever harvested were the Meyer lemons that hung lazily from the trees along her backyard fence. The only soil she ever tended came in bags from the Home Depot. She exhaled heavily. If she were a country girl, she thought, she could scan the horizon and know which of these godforsaken roads led to her fields. But she wasn’t a country girl. Not even a little.
Charley turned to her window and caught a scent of Louisiana on the June breeze; the aroma o
“In Queen Sugar, two bulwarks of American literature—Southern fiction and the transformational journey—are given a fresh take by talented first time novelist Natalie Baszile . . . [the novel] is a sensory experience, a tableau vivant that Baszile skillfully paints in a palette simultaneously subtle and bold. Queen Sugar is a bright and enticing reminder that, sometimes, you can go home.”
“A nuanced evocation of contemporary black life.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Reading this book is inhabiting, briefly, the backbreaking and brutal yet rewarding life that is sugarcane farming.... Queen Sugar is an impressive debut from a talented writer and a fascinating look into the world of the contemporary South.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Baszile infuses her novel with flickers of poetic detail and spot-on observations... Queen Sugar gets props for its charming characters and enthralling, fully realized setting.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"In her heartfelt and beautiful debut novel, Natalie Baszile tells a tale of the South that is as deeply rooted in time and place as it is universal. How do we make sense of family? Loss? The legacies passed down to us? These are the questions that Charley, a young widowed mother, grapples with, as she tries to save the sugarcane plantation that is her inheritance and which, unbeknownst to her, holds the answers to both her past and her future."
—Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
"Natalie Baszile debuts with an irresistible tale of family, community, personal obligation, and personal reinvention. The world is full of things that keep you down and things that lift you up—Queen Sugar is about both and in approximately equal measure. Smart and heart-felt and highly recommended."
—Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
"Queen Sugar is a gorgeous, moving story about what grounds us as brothers and sisters, as mothers and daughters, and all the ways we fight to save each other. Natalie Baszile’s characters put brave roots into inhospitable ground, looking for a place, a person, a community to call home. I alternately laughed and wept as they failed each other, forgave each other, lost each other, found themselves. It’s a wise, strong book, and I loved it. You will, too."
—Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of Someone Else's Love Story
"After turning the last page of Queen Sugar, I already miss the gutsy, contemporary African American woman who ditches California and migrates to Louisiana to run her inherited cane farm. Natalie Baszile is a fresh, new voice that resists all Southern stereotypes, and delivers an authentic knock-out read."
—Lalita Tademy, New York Times bestselling author of Cane River and Red River
“Raw with hardship and tender with hope, Queen Sugar digs deep to the core of a courageous young widow’s life as she struggles to keep her farm in Louisiana’s sugarcane country. Natalie Baszile writes with a bold and steady hand.”
—Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Me and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
"Queen Sugar is a page-turning, heart-breaking novel of the new south, where the past is never truly past, but the future is a hot, bright promise. This is a story of family and the healing power of our connections—to each other, and to the rich land beneath our fee