“A Tall History of Sugar” tells the story of Moshe Fisher, a man who was “born without skin,” so that no one is able to tell what race he belongs to; and Arrienne Christie, his soul mate who makes it her duty in life to protect Moshe from the social and emotional consequences of his strange appearance. The story begins with Moshe’s birth in the late 1950s, and continues through time, traversing various historical events in mostly Jamaica and England.
What a book!! I felt like I was on a nice lazy river and towards the end the current got stronger as I flowed into the rapids that is ‘Mosh’ and ‘Arii’ only to spat back out to a lazy river.
Ok, ok a little dramatic but how else do I talk about this book?
A Tall History of Sugar isn’t about sugar directly but I find indirectly it is about sugar and what it represents in the colonial context of Jamaica and England; or the figurative context of sweet or too much sweet.
There are so many themes in the book such as history, heritage, culture, race; for instance the description of Moshe “born without skin” is a reference to him being an albino but negatively called a “dundus” in Jamaican parlance. The other major themes include love, friendship – well perhaps all types relationships; the love and relationship not only with soul mates but with parents, between parents, relationship with family and community. Also true to form if there’s a story around Jamaican culture, there’s themes around religion and faith.
I connected with the fictional places mixed in with the landmarks of real ones especially since I come from the western side of island. I loved the historical backdrop and the use of language particularly what many would call “country sayings” or “ole time sayings”. It connects with me because she uses language my friends always jokingly ask “Kerry is where you get that from?” or “is long time I don’t hear anybody say that.” The book in many ways made me realize that I hold on to my ‘patwa’, phrases or proverbs for dear life because it connects me to memories – people, places and things. Like, when Arii and Mosh first met at school – I was right there with them. Forbes didn’t call the school “Basic School”; but everything about the one building with 3 classes separated by blackboards are reminiscent of my memories of Miss Pearl’s Basic School.
I struggled a little with how I felt about the translations of the Jamaican proverbs immediately after the sentence. On one hand it felt repetitive for me a reader who understood the proverb(s). But on the other hand I get that this translation would be helpful for someone who isn’t Jamaican or even someone of Jamaican heritage who didn’t previously know. Luckily the translation was limited to perhaps the first chapter of the book.
The story is unpredictable, which for me is a good thing. If I can figure out what is coming next I tend to speed read/skim/scan through those parts. A Tall History of Sugar will leave you with many emotions and questions but it will keep you reading because you wonder where it leads.