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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  877 ratings  ·  144 reviews
In the late 1630s, lured by the promise of the New World, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor, George Ashby, set sail from England to settle in Barbados. He fell into the life of a sugar plantation owner by mere chance, but by the time he harvested his first crop, a revolution was fully under way: the farming of sugar cane, and the swiftly increasing demands f ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 22nd 2013 by Knopf (first published May 3rd 2012)
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Because of the dearth of documentary evidence, much of the early part of the book concerning the journey of the author’s maternal ancestor, George Ashby, to Barbados, his arrival on the island and his daily life has by necessity to be speculation or generalisation based on the limited contemporary accounts of other settlers. The author paints a detailed picture of what it must have been like for settlers arriving on the island, coming to terms with the change in environment – new sights and smel ...more
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: In the late 1630s, lured by the promise of the New World, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor, George Ashby, set sail from England to settle in Barbados. He fell into the life of a sugar plantation owner by mere chance, but by the time he harvested his first crop, a revolution was fully under way: the farming of sugar cane, and the swiftly increasing demands for sugar worldwide, would not only lift George Ashby from abject poverty
Lewis Weinstein
As compelling a family memoir as you are ever likely to read.

Although very well written, the read is difficult because of the subject matter; there is very little joy as the author pulls no punches regarding her family's role in the sugar-based slavery of Barbados. The descriptions of the sugar business and the slaves central role in it are fascinating and brutal. And shameful.

The blending of family history with the history of Barbados is, for the most part, very well done, although I tended t
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this for my book club. It had an interesting connection to another book we read earlier in our 2015-16 season, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, which briefly touches on France and Haiti in some of the same time period.

The author traces her maternal family line back to 1620, when the first Ashby emigrated from England to Barbados. Like many white landowners in the Caribbean, he started a sugar plantation. The next few generations built the p
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
My thoughts:
• The author effectively blends the history of Barbados with the history of her ancestors on the island – so it is both a history of Barbados and a history of her family – so the book is both universal and intimate
• The reading experience was uneven for me – I thought the second half was a better flow and read more easily and was more relatable.
• As this is the history of Barbados, sugar and empire in the Caribbean – the story is organized around her first identifiable ancestor to co
Jim Dooley
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Sugar in the blood" is a term often used to describe a certain type of illness. The title is particularly appropriate for this book in that it not only describes a sociological illness, but the product that runs as an influence over a culture, an island, and a family. A person can develop an addiction to sweetness and, in this case, create "acceptable" excuses for the slavery that helps it to prosper.

I was initially confounded by the book because the author's agenda appeared to be all over the
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week:
Four writers create a personal portrait, exploring their sense of identity and what it feels like to be at home in Britain.

'Sugar In The Blood' by Andrea Stuart. Read by Lorraine Burroughs.

This selection of original non-fiction is taken from a glorious and sometimes feistily cantankerous celebration of Britain.

Andrea Stuart arrived from Barbados in the mid 1970s, aged 14 yrs. Hers was a plantation owning Bajan family descended from an 18th century English emig
The thing that made this book great - the author's own ancestral research in telling the story of slave trade/plantation life in Barbados (and similarly for other colonized "sugar islands") - also contributed to some of its pitfalls.

In Part 1, Stuart continues to refer to her great* grandfather, George Ashby, with about 10 greats - all written out right there in the text (and in the audiobook). She does this a number of times, and it was just the beginning of some lax editorial decisions. There
Aron Wagner
Feb 04, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was a conglameration of "heard-it-a-dozen-times-before" and "really?-that's-so-interesting!" The first category gave good context for the latter. I also rather enjoyed the author's personal great-great-great grandparent details because they gave a human face to the story of Barbados, about which I knew almost nothing specifically, and I learned a lot about the slave rebellions of the Carribean and the differences between types of slavery on the tropical sugar plantations and that of th ...more
Zack O'Neill
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My interest in this book can be traced to Colin Woodard’s American Nations, a 2011 text in which Woodard argues [as others have before, such as Kevin Phillips in his 1969 book Emerging Republican Majority and Joel Garreau in his 1981 book The Nine Nations of North America] that America has always been a battleground of competing tribes – a de facto nation of nations and all that that entails. One element of Woodard’s text is to characterize the American South’s system of chattel slavery as forge ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is descended from both white Barbados plantation owners and slaves who originally worked on them. She has written a history of Barbados and used some of her ancestors as illustration.
Her earliest known ancestor emigrated to Barbados and bought an area of uncleared land to become one of the first planters there. His was a small plantation and, like most at the time, he would have worked it himself with the help of bonded labourers. Over time and as other crops gave way to sugar cultiva
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads-won
**Received from Goodreads first reads.
3.5 stars

This is such a well written book and an obvious labor of love from the Author. This book is also dense with history. It is obvious that the Author did a tremendous amount of research prior to writing this book. Not just research about her family but research on migration, life onboard a boat/ship, life of the endendured servent, slave trade, life of a slave, and life on Barbados. This is not a fast read. The amount of information that is presented d
Dave Steinbrunn
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
First 2/3 of the book were great, gives real insight on both the lives of the planters and the slaves. Recommended reading if you want to see just really how bad slavery was. Last part of the book seemed a bit rushed.
Lauren Hiebner
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sugar in the blood is a family history embedded in the colonial development and settlement of Barbados. It’s a story that tells of the developing slave culture based on sugarcane. It explains how sugar cane emerged as a cash crop and how sugar cane is processed. It also delves into the slave life of her family based on first hand accounts of other islands in the Caribbean and similar stories. The author speculates on her family history using some secondary sources as well. But it’s a good story ...more
Bill P.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I saw a very positive mention of this title somewhere and was intriqued immediately, my primary motive being the fact that it was about the history of Barbados, an island I had vacationed on a few years back. At the time I was struck by the fields of sugar cane and the people we saw in the fields working the cane and was left wondering about their lives.

Andrea Stuart does a marvelous job of recreating the history of this island nation thru the device of tracing her own family's roots back to the
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am always on the lookout for books that will fill in my knowledge of history yet not seem as though they were written by a professor. This one fills the bill. Ms Stuart traces the bloody history of Barbados and the sugar industry along with a parallel memoir of her family's role in that plantation culture. The descriptions of slavery, which begin in Africa, then describe the middle passage and life on the sugar plantations, are so graphic that they will give you nightmares. Slavery was an unsp ...more
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an engrossing and accessible history that uses the experience of one family's history to tell a broader story of Barbados. Stuart covers large swathes relatively briefly, alternating with a deep dive into society, politics, culture and living arrangements in particular ages (the mid-seventeenth century colonial beginnings, the early-mid nineteenth century plantation lifestyle through to emancipation, post WW1 emigre experiences in Harlem, her parents lives from the 1950s in Barbados and ...more
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
“Getting rid of slavery was proving a more difficult task than getting rid of the slave trade. A lot of this had to do with class. Those involved in the trade tended to be from lower down the social scale, “roughnecks” who wouldn’t be welcome in the more salubrious drawing rooms of the metropolis. The planters, on the other hand, were from the same caste as many of the country’s legislators...”

“In Jamaica, a vast crowd of the newly free surrounded a coffin, inscribed “Colonial slavery, died July
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not an easy read, but a terrific historical read for anyone with an interest in the history of the Caribbean islands, or a more fine-tuned understanding of the way in which the history of slavery has created the basis for who so many of us in all of the Americas (Caribbean Is., America, Brazil & other parts of Central & S. America) are today. Stuart really did her research, and the depth and breadth of her grasp on this topic is impressive.
Kristina Norberg
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating history of Stuart's family history from leaving the UK in the 1600's to go to the West Indies (Barbados) and the development of sugar plantations where so many Africans were exploited. She takes you all the way up to the present. ...more
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It's rare for a book to impact me as strongly as Andrea Stuart's Sugar in the Blood. Stuart skillfully weaves a family genealogy with a geopolitical and economic history of Barbados, then wraps it up with an analysis of the way we are still impacted by the 17th century sugar industry.

Sugar was rarely used in Europe before the 17th century. Sugar then would have come from India, and like other rare spices from that part of the world, it was used sparingly. When Stuart's ancestor George Ashby left
Sarbpreet Singh
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I just finished reading Andrea Stuart's Sugar In The Blood, an extremely well written work of non-fiction that attempts to tell the story of her family, interwoven with the harsh realities of colonialism and slavery in Barbados. This book is evocative of the truly magnificent work, The Warmth of Other Suns, which documents the great migration of African Americans from the South in the last century. While Stuart doesn't quite match Isabel Wilkerson's brilliance, the book is nevertheless extremely ...more
Joan Colby
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An extremely well-written and fascinating book which covers the history of sugar while concentrating on a family epic in Barbados. The family which began with a white British settler evolved to a multiracial entity of which Stuart is the latest generation. Barbados as the center of the sugar trade became home to the wealthiest citizens of the British empire; planters whose luxurious lifestyles operated on the backs of mistreated and deprived slaves. The saga of slavery in the West Indies is trul ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Most people are aware of the fact that the history they were taught in school is woefully inadequate. It falls short of depicting what actually happened, and ends up almost being anesthetized in a way that is less offensive to the fewest number of people.

Often too, at least in the U.S., history is segmented and we tend to gravitate towards the stories that are familiar to our own heritage. Rarely are we given a book that explores how different histories emerged concurrently. Andrea Stuart's boo
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is the best book that I've read so far in 2013. I originally was reluctant to read the book because it is presented as a "family history," and I tend not to enjoy those types of books, but I am so glad I put those reservations aside. Written by a noted author whose family is from Barbados, "Sugar in the Blood" uses the history of one branch of the family to explore how "sugar, slavery, and settlement made and shaped the life experiences of our ancestors, and our world today." A very distant ...more
Sep 20, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book was recommended in the author's notes of another book I read earlier this year. In the first book, the characters' lives were affected by the rhythms of life on sugar cane plantations on an island in the Caribbean. In this book, "Sugar in the Blood", the author describes how her own ancestors came to the islands and raised their families on these plantations. Some did so as slaves.

I expected something akin to "Roots", a sort of storytelling (and yes, I know that "Roots" is known to b
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sugar in the Blood is a very well researched and engaging book that tells the story of the author's ancestors on Barbados, in the context of both British colonialism and the role of the sugar industry in the institutionalization of slavery in the Americas. In the process she also provides an excellent overview of the history of Barbados, which has been the most successful of Britain's former Caribbean colonies, post-independence. This is a valuable contribution to the study of seventeenth and ei ...more
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-issues
I initially gave this book 2 stars because I was expecting a biography, and I thought it was a very poorly-written one. It's not a biography: it's the history of sugar cane cultivation and how it has shaped our world. As a history, it's fabulous! It's been a while since I've learned so much from a book. ...more
Susan Wright
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love Barbados and its people and continue to return to this place of present day beauty and graciousness. After completing this book my visits will take on a whole new hue and depth of understanding for this remarkable island. I will hear the night time rustle of the cane and whisper of the ocean in a very different albeit richer and complete sense.
Marion Husband
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and well written, I learnt stuff I didn't know which is always good...pretty sure she had Queen Victoria on the throne a few years before she actually was, which threw me a bit, it's an easy enough date to check, after all. But maybe I read it wrong, that's entirely possible, but the book wasn't as interesting as all that for me to bother re-reading the questionable bit.... ...more
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Andrea Stuart was born in Barbados in 1962. She spent many of her early years in Jamaica,where her father, Kenneth, was Dean of the medical school at the University College of the West Indies - the first university in the Caribbean.

In 1976, when she was a teenager, she moved with her family to England. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and French at the Sorbonne. Her book The Ro

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