Black Sugar (“Sucre noir”), by Miguel Bonnefoy
Rum, pirates, beautiful women: Miguel Bonnefoy's second novel is fuelled above all by golden poetry and his love for Venezuela, of which this story is also a moving portrait.
Born in 1986 in Paris to a Venezuelan mother and a Chilean father, this diplomat’s son was educated in French high schools in the countries where his parents took him, notably Portugal and Venezuela.
When he reached adulthood, Miguel Bonnefoy settled in Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne to study French literature, in particular Romain Gary and Aragon, before beginning his career as a writer. His writing was fed by his many and varied experiences: as a worker, a producer of cultural events and a French teacher at the Alliance Française in Caracas, a bookseller in Argentina, a night watchman at a Parisian hotel, a book-stall proprietor on the banks of the Seine...
His first novel, Octavio’s Journey (“Le Voyage d’Octavio”, 2015), was a finalist for the Goncourt Prize for a First Novel and was awarded the Prix de la Vocation and a special mention by the jury for the Five Continents Prize.
Sugarcane and black gold
With Black Sugar (2017), Miguel Bonnefoy takes us to a Caribbean island, where the legend of a lost treasure upends the existence of a family of master rum-makers, the Oteros. The heir to the sugar cane plantation, the glamorous Serena, crosses paths with the ambitious explorer Severo Bracamonte, each looking for the treasure that will give meaning to their lives.
In a twist of fate, gold is often found in the eyes of those who seek it, rather than buried in the depths of the earth. A treasure hunt, or an allegory for the Venezuelan Oil rush? This pirate story is a truly philosophical tale.
Black Sugar opens with the story of the famous pirate Henry Morgan’s shipwreck, which took place some three hundred years before the main plot. This was the subject of a story which Miguel Bonnefoy wrote when he was a student at La Sorbonne. This text, which remained in his drawer for several years, ultimately serves as a picaresque and hypnotic beginning to the novel.
Here we meet three female characters, who convey the evolution of the female condition over the twentieth century: The first, Candelaria Otero, only exists through her husband; the second, Serena Otero, is a socialite who pleases her family while still cultivating her curiosity, while the third, Eva Fuego, is a strong character who knows how to make a place for herself in her community and stave off suitors.
If the hypnotic prologue of Black Sugar seems to immerse us in an exotic nightmare, this family narrative employs a magical realism similar to that of Gabriel García Márquez, blending the fantastic and the everyday.
An allegory for the history of Venezuela, where oil long provided a steady income before being exhausted, the novel also lays out all the other riches of the Caribbean, from sugar cane to mangos and coffee, as well as the traditions and knowledge of its inhabitants.
With this hopeful appeal, Miguel Bonnefoy says he wants to prove the vitality of Latin American culture.
Winner of an Institut français Stendhal Residency, Miguel Bonnefoy was in Caracas, Venezuela, in March and April of 2016.
The Stendhal programme allows French authors or authors living in France to travel to a foreign country and work on a writing project related to that country.