Up in the mountainous coffee region of Utuado, Vicente Vega and Valentina Sanchez labor to keep their small farm from the creditors. When the Spanish-American War and the great San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899 bring devastating upheaval, the young couple is lured, along with thousands of other puertorriquenos, to the sugar plantations of Hawaii, where they are confronted by the hollowness of America’s promises of prosperity.
... enthralling ... The style of The Taste of Sugar is heavily inflected with Spanish words and phrases, conveying the rich linguistic culture of this place. And sometimes, without warning, Vera drops her own narrative voice and shifts into the higher register of a character’s excited monologue. It’s a tremendously enlivening dramatic effect ... One of the many pleasures of this story stems from Vera’s emotional range ... a passionate love story purified in the crucible of suffering .... All these intimate and finely drawn details are nested within a masterful work of historical fiction that traces monumental economic and political currents ... Vera never reduces him or any of her characters to mere cogs in this vast system. Her vision is always grounded in this hard-working family, their struggles, their flaws, their persistent decency ... One of the great challenges of globe-spanning stories about the forces that raise and cripple nations is maintaining a fragile realm of free will in which ordinary characters can still act, even in their highly oppressed circumstances. That’s the rich feat of The Taste of Sugar. Here, the drama always stays rooted in the suspenseful ordeal of these farmers to whom we grow more and more attached. Vera writes as confidently about the mechanics of international markets as she does about the hopes whispered between grieving lovers.
Tapping into her Puerto Rican heritage and conducting plenty of research, Vera...presents a heartfelt depiction of once-proud coffee plantation hacendados...in very difficult times ... Progressing chronologically, the omniscient narrator seamlessly folds in Spanish words and phrases as well as epistolary interludes between Valentina and her sister, Elena. Vera's novel is historical fiction at its best, featuring engaging survivors from a forgotten past.
Vera’s saga is impeccably timed to provide insights into the troubling history of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, and showing that the colonization of puertorriqueños extended to the Pacific fills a gap in history for many. Recommended for anyone who enjoys epic stories of hardship and loss as well as the perseverance, love, and strength drawn from one’s family and culture.