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Capsule Review

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

In This Review

Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire
Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire
By Andrea Stuart
Knopf, 2013, 384 pp. $27.95 Purchase

A poetic history of great beauty and power, Sugar in the Blood interweaves the journeys of the author’s ancestors with the turbulent history of the English-speaking Caribbean islands and their role in the making of the Atlantic world. To reconstruct the lives and passions of her predecessors on the sugar estates of Barbados -- a group that included elite planters, middle-class mulattos, and enslaved blacks -- Stuart turns to better-recorded histories and relies on some informed speculation. But with her diverse roots, she is well placed to penetrate the intertwined cultures of masters and slaves and reveal how the plantation system damaged all those trapped by its extreme exploitation and systemic violence. Stuart also finds triumphant stories of hard work and happiness against the odds -- and of fabulous wealth that not only enabled survival in the tropics but also helped build modern London and fuel the British Empire. The book also reminds readers of the complex connections between the United States and the Caribbean: in the years before the United States purchased Louisiana, scores of wealthy French planters fled there to escape the great slave rebellion in Haiti, and many West Indian artists made significant contributions to the Harlem Renaissance.

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