On a trip to Paris, I recently had the same shocked realization that Andrea Stuart describes in her astounding new book, “Sugar in the Blood.”
Review by Amy Wilentz
Slaves built this, I thought as I wandered from one grand 18th-century monument to the next. How rarely we acknowledge that Europe’s great cities were built on profits from the labor and blood of slaves cutting sugarcane half a world away.
Stuart, a London-based author of Barbadian ancestry, writes of contemporary England: “Sugar surrounds me here.” The majestic Harewood House in Leeds was built with money from Caribbean sugar plantations, she points out, as was the Codrington Library of All Souls College in Oxford and Bristol’s mansions. The slaves of the West Indies built this wealth while unaware of its existence, or of their own connection to it. Without them, the vast empire that gave the world Victoria and Dickens might never have existed.
In this multigenerational, minutely researched history, Stuart teases out these connections. She sets out to understand her family’s genealogy, hoping to explain the mysteries that often surround Caribbean family histories and to elucidate more important cultural and historic themes and events: the psychological aftereffects of slavery and the long relationship between sugar — “white gold” — and forced labor.