A Tall History of Sugar transports you to warm, colourful Jamaica, both in content and in style. It’s an antidote to depression, a book to escape with. Replete with lyricism on every page, it tells the story of Moshe Fisher, a boy born neither black nor white but blue. Moshe’s story is narrated by the girl who tries to protect him from the gaze of other people, which, significantly, is also coloured by his skin. This is a subtle book about racism in a post-colonial world, but it is also a beautiful, piercingly imaginative tale about transcendent love. The appearance of Moshe is a brilliant trope; a man with no definable skin colour cannot be a hostage to his history, but still he is.
His survival at birth is a miracle, and the parallel between Moses and Moshe is clear. Both are discovered in the reeds, both had been abandoned. The mission of Moses was the eradication of sin, while the appearance of Moshe is sinful in itself. ‘The child seemed to represent some kind of perverse alchemy that had taken place in the deep earth, between tectonic plates, where he was fashioned. People said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” Life is complicated for Moshe. In the post-colonial world that rises up from the ashes of burning sugar cane and the viral plantation mentality, race won’t go away, but Moshe’s colour means he’s neither black nor white. “What is ‘other’, Mr Fisher?’ says the man behind the desk staring at the box marked race on his filled out application form. “I don’t know,” Moshe says truthfully. It is a question that he struggles with continually, but perhaps only those who love us can see through the surface of our skin.
First published in October 2019 by Akashic Books, Canongate has now released a new edition of this powerful epic about love between two misfits. In an interview, author Curdella Forbes talked about her interest in fairytales. They contain ‘hidden histories’, she says, dangerous stories of ‘unseen spirits’. The haunting element, which Curdella Forbes describes, is very real and present in A Tall History of Sugar. Moshe is Forbes’ fairytale hero, who must do battle with the forces of colonial history in subtle ways. Already a mythical character by his appearance, which is neither black nor white, Moshe has to first survive, and then stay afloat in a post colonial world, with all the troubles that ethnicity and history have leagued.
Any Cop?: This novel is worth reading just for the writing. The lyricism makes the story soar. It is one of those books that you will want to read again, perhaps more than twice, since each page has something to dwell upon, and every line is a pleasure. Forbes lists Gabriel Garcia Marquez as one of her main influences, and the connection between their writing is striking. If you liked Love in the Time of Cholera, you’ll love this.