Barbados: Slavery with a Hint of Sugar

It took several months, but the book finally arrived! I had quite high hope for Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart. I didn’t know that much about the history of sugar plantation owners in Barbados. I know quite a lot about the subject as of now. In fact, I know a lot more than I ever thought I would know. Yet somehow I feel like there is something I’m missing.

The book was meant to be about the author’s family history. It takes the reader back to the 1630s where the author’s earliest known relative left England and sailed off to Barbados. The story follows the lives of Stuart’s ancestors in Barbados, or it is supposed to do that.

What took me by surprise is that her family is almost a sideline in the story. The book focuses on the history of Barbados, whites versus black, slavery, and the liberation of slaves. Stuart’s family history is as a matter of fact only taking a part of the book, less than the more general, and extremely thoroughly researched subject of slavery.

The story is interesting, but I find it a bit misleading to call this book “a family’s story of slavery and empire”. “A history of the white settlement and slavery in Barbados” would be more appropriate. What bothers me most in this book is the endless parade of quotes. I do not mind quotes per se, but it makes it less interesting and harder to read, since a certain flow is missing, because there are simply too many quotes. Frederick Douglass is mentioned and quoted more than enough, him being American and all.

If I would have started to read the book with the knowledge that I would read a historical non-fictive work of slavery in Barbados I would most likely be quite happy with the outcome. Quite frankly, even though I am sure that Stuart has worked hours and hours to get the story into print, and indeed, the subject has been researched in detail, the story left me cold. I was expecting to read about the author’s family history. I feel like I know very little about them.

I did learn a lot about Barbados and its history, but I would have liked to learn about people, what they did, how they felt, and what their daily lives were like. Instead I got a lot of historical research, but I could have gotten that from any history book regarding slavery in the Americas, I reckon. The book is well-written, and I would definitely recommend it to a history freak, but to one who does not know that much about the history of slavery in America, because sadly I already knew the general facts from before.

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