A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes

Blending fantasy and history, A Tall History of Sugar is an epic, generation-spanning novel set in newly independent Jamaica

Book Review by Emily Hay | 06 Feb 2020
  • A Tall History of Sugar
Book title: A Tall History of Sugar
Author: Curdella Forbes

Moshe and Arrienne are different. Moshe was found in a river as a baby, with black features but skin whitish-blue, whilst Arrienne’s height and dark skin set her apart from even her family. From the moment the two meet, they are drawn to one another as friends, twins and lovers. This epic, generation-spanning novel tells the tale of their lives with fantasy and history intertwining against the background of a newly independent Jamaica and a continually colonial Britain. 

A Tall History of Sugar explores this shared experience of otherness, colour and colonialism in lives still governed by Jamaica’s plantation history. Moshe and Arrienne themselves embody a complex relationship between being Black and their own identities, told through their starkly different skin tones. 

The strength of Curdella Forbes’ prose is her ability to deftly represent characters throughout varying stages of their lives. From confusing childhoods and awkward adolescences into adulthood, old age and dementia, Forbes perfectly captures the essence of her characters throughout the passing time. They feel fully formed and real. 

Yet, the story’s scope can leave it feeling disjointed. It isn’t always clear where the narrative is going which can make it difficult to follow. The magic and history don’t always intertwine coherently, and where some aspects are fleshed out in detail, others seem a little lacking.

Canongate, out now, £14.99