The Taste of Sugar

Marisel Vera | Puerto Rico

I’m a lover of historical fiction, but admittedly I’m picky about the titles I read and enjoy. So when this book came on my radar I was excited to add it to my collection. Although Puerto Rico is technically considered a U. S. territory, it’s geographic location in the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, this country has a history that I’m very unfamiliar with and I really just wanted to learn more from Marisel Vera, who clearly wanted to tell its story. 

The Taste of Sugar is set in Puerto Rico in the early 1900s, focusing on the life of Vicente and Valentina, a young couple whose unlikely match see them begin their lives as coffee farmers during the time of Spanish colonization. When the Americans begin war with Spain and eventually gain control of Puerto Rico’s economy, the drastic changes plunge many Puerto Ricans into poverty, especially coffee farmers, who watched their livelihoods disappear due to the elimination of trade partnerships with Spain, essentially sabotaging buyers for coffee. During this time the Americans also devalued the Puerto Rican peso against the U. S. currency, making their savings worthless under the new colonizers.   

Vera, who grew up in Chicago and is of Puerto Rican descent, explores themes of poverty, patriarchy, veiled homosexuality, racial discrimination, and death. But mostly this is a story of a country, represented through Vicente and Valentina, that is forced from one colonizer to another with no control over their daily lives and their livelihoods. It will give you a better understanding of the foundation of the economic hardships that still exists today due to the exploitation of the Americans.

I found this story to be engaging, at times slow, but overall wanting to know what would happen to the characters kept this a page turner for me. Vicente and Valentina have a sincere love story, albeit with heartbreak, and they strive throughout the book to walk through life together.

Sadly, there is little redemption within these pages, and that alone may make this a tough read for some. But fiction cannot override historical accuracy, so if you’re looking to learn more about this period in Puerto Rican history, give this book a read. The Puerto Rican people have endured so much neglect and this book puts some of it into perspective.

There is a very subtle sweetness, just a hint of the taste of sugar that only those who live for coffee can taste,’ Vicente told him. ‘That only people who need coffee as they do water can know.’”

-Marisel Vera

First published: 2020
Instagram: @writingbee2

Twitter: @MVeraWriter

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