A Tall History of Sugar

A Tall History of Sugar


Discovered amidst a tangle of sea grape trees by the childless Rachel Fisher, baby Moshe’s provenance is a thing of myth and mystery; his unusual appearance, with blueish, translucent skin and duo-toned hair, only serves to compound his mystique.

Equally feared and ridiculed by peers as he grows up, he finds a surprising kindred soul in the striking and bold Arrienne Christie, but their complex relationship is fraught with obstacles that tear them apart as powerfully as they are drawn together.

Beginning in the late 1950s, four years before Jamaica’s independence from colonial rule, A Tall History of Sugar’s epic love story sweeps between a rural Jamaica, scarred by the legacies of colonialism, and an England increasingly riven by race riots and class division.

Our Review

A Tall History of Sugar is a beautifully written and engaging novel and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Curdella Forbes has a lyrical writing style which captivated me from the start, admittedly the use of Patwa dialect was occasionally difficult to understand but not enough to detract from the story and once I got used to it everything was fine.

A Tall History of Sugar reads like a fairy tale at times, a fairy tale unlike one I have ever read before.

A Tall History of Sugar is about a childless couple who find an abandoned baby and decide to adopt him. The boy is unusual in appearance and is treated as someone different by everyone except for his best friend Arri.

Neither child likes to communicate with anyone but each other and it seems they are fated to end up together. A story of love, friendship, superstition and race.

“Long ago when teachers were sent from Britain to teach in the grammar schools of the West Indian Colonies (it was Great Britain then, not Little England, as it is now, after Brexit and the fall of the empire,” there lived in Jamaica, near a town called Oracabassa-On-Sea, a poor fisherman and his wife, who was a farmer and a seamstress, and one morning they found a pale child in bushes in a basket made of reeds.”

“Rachel rocked her body to and from to quiet him, while turning the little face toward her, to see further what manner of child this could be. What she saw of the rest of the face made her hide it in pity in her shawl.”

Moshe’s life is plagued by people asking incessant questions about his unusual appearance or speculating on his parentage. One of the reasons he and Arri get on so well is that she doesn’t ask him these questions, but she believes there is another reason entirely.

“There is only one other thing I need to tell you before the story begins.

The day Moshe was found was my first birthday. It isn’t that I am superstitious. I am not; I am not Rachel Fisher, but experience teaches you to read itself, and somehow the coincidence, that we were born on the same day though one year apart, seemed a sign of everything that was to come, the way we belonged to each other and the way we kept missing each other, in the one-step two-step, one step at a time. When he died, I was almost not even there, and we had been together all our lives.

I returned and found him slipping into sleep, the day after I lost my fear of him leaving me for America. Only it wasn’t the sleep you wake up from, but the long one where you say goodbye.”

“There was always an occult logic at work what cause them to fall into predestined patterns, a logic behind human control, or comprehension, and it was the same language of the universe (which Rachel called faith, that had called her to find this child when she thought she would have no daughter or son, and at the precise moment, when she had determined in her heard to leave her husband.

By this logic Moshe was predestined to welcome a superstitious man, following in the footsteps of his mother. Moreover he was destined to remain so, because he travelled and lived in many places all over the world.”


The description of the different ailments from producing ‘King Sugar’ was quite horrifying to read.

“It was Friday, the day when they joined the long lines of sick and ailing from the town and its surrounding districts, who travelled to the parishes one hospital, mostly on foot, to get treatment for ailments and wounds. The lines included women pregnant with their first, second, third, sometimes tenth, eleventh, or even twelfth child. It included men with machete chops all over their bodies from plantation disputes, children bent in the shape of safety pins from hookworm, young ones with yaws, whooping cough, measles, or mumps-the usual maladies of childhood in those times and in that place- and many young and old suffering from heart failure, blocked tube, hernia, unresponsive male organ, underresponsive female organ, testicular edema, old fresh cold, virulent fresh cold, consumption, out-of-control blood pressure, and various disorders from the surfeit of indigestion of sugar.

The extent and variety of ailments from saccharine indigestion on the island were both miraculous and unsurprising. In case this is unknown to you, Jamaica from its infancy had been a sugarcane plantation, where people perforce ate a lot of sugar or its byproducts and leftovers. Sugar in the boiling houses made the slaves drunk, the great vats of it with its liquorish smell when it was in the making, and when it was made, the shining crystals scooped into vast kegs for shipping to England, the mother country. The grains clung to their skins and got into their eyes and ears and even their secret parts – their vulvae and scrotums.”

“After the long cruel hours in the canepiece, being bitten by cane rat, sugar snake, overseer whip, hot sun and cane leaf, when they went back to their slave cabins at night there was sometimes nothing to eat but they could not eat without become sick, or rather more sick, since they were already sick in the beginning from too much consanguinity with its sweet stickiness. This is why it became a saying in Jamaica is one of two tings going tek yu – if is not sugar, is heart failure: (which might boil down to the same thing, for heart failure comes from having too much salt – salt for healing, for taste, even in your tea, salt for feeling balanced, salt for good luck, throw it behind you, salt for counteracting Obeah and the ill effects of sugar. In Jamaica once upon a time and maybe still now, we ate salt like sugar. So it still goes back to King Sugar.”

I found this kind of historical thing fascinating because I have never been to Jamaica and knew very little about it and its history prior to reading the book. 

One of my favourite things about the book is the way the way the authors writing style is so winding, the narrator takes her time making her point and the story has so much added detail to it that helps to set the scene.

“One more last thing. (Forgive me I am losing brain cells, and moreover I am afflicted with the affliction of the people who come from where I was born, the habit of everlasting and divaricate endings, whether in bearing record or saying goodbye. It is the fear of departure, the final line. A fear that belongs only to people whose history began in death.”

A Tall History of Sugar was a sad love story in many ways, but it was excellent and the story of Moshe and Arri will definitely be a favourite.

“It is only left to say that my part in all of this – to tell you what happened to us, in the way it happened – was always fated, though when we began, it was not only Moshe, but both of us who could not speak.

It is totally fitting that we met and fell in love on our first day of school.”

I can’t describe how much I loved this book.

Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

  • Currently 4.8/5

Read & Shared 20 Times.

I hope you enjoyed this book review, please consider sharing it with others.

Get In Touch

Please feel free to leave a comment to this book review below. Or even leave your own review if you like.
If you run a blog and/or have posted a review to this book, a Q & A or general author interview online you can always add a trackback to it here and following moderation we'll add a link to it below.