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October 31, 2020
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Biography/Memoir Books

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

Sugar in the bloodIn the late 1630s, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor set sail from England, lured by the promise of the New World, to settle in Barbados where he fell by chance into the lucrative life of a sugar plantation owner. With George Ashby’s first crop, the cane revolution was underway and would go on to transform the Caribbean into an archipelago of riches, establishing a thriving worldwide industry that bound together ambitious white entrepreneurs and enslaved black workers. As it grew, this sweet colonial trade fuelled the Enlightenment and financed the Industrial Revolution, but it also had more direct, less palatable consequences for the individuals caught up in it, consequences that still haunt the author’s past. In this unique personal history, Andrea Stuart follows the thread of her own family’s involvement with sugar through successive generations, telling a story of insatiable greed and forbidden love, of abuse and liberation.


“Doing research in the air-conditioned Barbados Museum, acclaimed writer Stuart (The Rose of Martinique) stumbles upon her maternal grandfather eight times removed, George Ashby, who migrated to the island from England in the late 1630s. Brilliantly weaving together threads of family history, political history, social history, and agricultural history into a vivid quilt covering the evolution of sugar—”white gold”—and slavery and sugar’s impact on the development of Barbados as well as on her own family. Stuart recreates her ancestors’ lives vividly as she tries to imagine how arduous and challenging life would have been for them, especially in Ashby’s case, and as the island grew as the lust for sugar developed. Sugar cane first came to the island in 1620, but it was only around 20 years later that the first sugar factory was built. Since the process of cultivating sugar was more arduous and expensive and required more labor than growing tobacco, planters soon started buying slaves to bolster their labor forces and very quickly the black population of Barbados outnumbered the white. Stuart imagines the uneasiness that would have existed in the Ashbys’ household between whites and blacks, slaves and free, just as it did in other farms on the island. Stuart powerfully concludes that the legacy of sugar boom and the slave trade in the Caribbean are not so easily forgotten, for sugar “has shaped our economies and national identities, and by pulling together the unique racial mix of the islands,” the transformation wrought by sugar and slavery is “written across our very faces” and the politics of color.” –Publishers Weekly

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

“The book comes alive… Stuart explores with increasing assurance and complexity the legacy of slavery and race.” –Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times

“The transformation of ordinary Englishmen into the masters of sugar plantations where African slaves toiled has rarely been fleshed out with so much biographical detail, or indeed, told by a descendant as elegant as Stuart… Captivating.” –Valerie Grove, The Times

“One hell of an evocative historical writer… a sparkling history of sugar and the slave trade. It fizzes with life and is meticulously researched…. an epic story well told.” –Viv Groskop, Telegraph

“A diligently researched hybrid of family memoir and history… Sugar in the Blood provides testimony to the high human drama of Caribbean slave trafficking and the misery endured by millions in the pursuit of sweetness… Absorbing.” –Ian Thomson, Guardian

“A clear, imaginative and deeply shocking account of the dark history of the sugar trade… Diligently researched and elegantly written… with the depth and resonance of fiction.” –Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

“Thanks to her thorough and sensitive research and her strong emotional engagement with the subject, Stuart succeeds with her professed aim to ‘understand the forces that brought our ancestors together from opposite ends of the world’… A compelling, passionate and continually stimulating book.” –Matthew Parker, Literary Review


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