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Sugar and Slate [Paperback]

Charlotte Williams
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2002
As the daughter of a white Welsh-speaking mother and black father from Guyana, Charlotte Williams's childhood world was one of mixed messages dominated by the feeling that "somehow to be half-Welsh and half Afro-Caribbean was to be half of something but never quite anything whole at all." Sugar and Slate tells the fascinating story of her journey of self-discovery, from the small north Wales town of her birth to Africa, the Caribbean and back to Wales. What begins as a journey becomes a remarkable confrontation with herself and with the idea of Wales and Welshness.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Planet (1 Feb 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0954088107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0954088101
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 14.8 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

A mixed-race young woman, the daughter of a white Welsh-speaking mother and black father from Guyana, grows up in a small town on the coast of north Wales. From there she travels to Africa, the Caribbean and finally back to Wales. Sugar & Slate is a story of movement and dislocation in which there is a constant pull of to-ing and fro-ing, going away and coming back with always a sense of being 'half home'. This is both a personal memoir and a story that speaks to the wider experience of mixed-race Britons. It is a story of Welshness and a story of Wales and above all a story for those of us who look over our shoulder across the sea to some other place.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

It would have been so much easier if I had been able to say, "I come from Africa," then maybe added under my breath, "the long way round." Instead, the Africa thing hung about me like a Welsh Not, a heavy encumbrance on my soul; a Not-identity; an awkward reminder of what I was or what I wasn't.

Once at a seminar, one of those occasions when the word Diaspora crops up too many times and where there aren't too many of us present, the only other Diaspora-person sought me out. His eyes caught mine in recognition of something I can't say I could name, yet I must have responded because later as we chatted over fizzy water and conference packs, he offered quite uninvited and with all the authority of an African: "People like you? You gotta get digging and if you dig deep enough you're gonna find Africa."
I wondered if my name badge carried some information lost to me or whether it was just the way I looked. I felt as if I had entered the realm of some kind of half people, doomed to roam the endless road to elsewhere looking for somewhere called Roots. I was annoyed. Maybe Alex Hayley had committed us all to the pilgrimage. I found myself thinking about all those African-Americans straight off the Pan-Am in their shades and khaki shorts treading the trail to the slave forts on the beaches of Ghana. And then I thought about all those who couldn't afford the trip.

I thought about Suzanne. We were sitting drinking tea by the coal fire at home. "I has this friend see," she was saying in her strong south Walian accent, "with red hair and eyes as green as anything. She passes herself as white but Mam told her straight - you're black you is, BLACK! I know your mam and she's black as well so don't go putting on any airs and graces round 'ere." She had a way of talking over her shoulder in conversation with her imaginary Mam. She paused a little and then turned to Mam and said in a lowered voice, "Well I'm not wearing African robes for nobody, Uh-uh, not me." Mam didn't respond and we fell silent. That's the Africa thing. It just pops up again and again like a shadow.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'She red outside but she white inside' 10 Mar 2002
By A Customer
Charlotte Williams opens her book by noting that she came from Africa 'the long way round'. She takes the reader on that journey, beginning with her childhood in Wales, daughter of a Welsh woman and an Afro-Caribbean artist and writer. As a white-black ('Africa was black, not me') she encountered the 'polite racism' of Wales. She goes on to relate her experiences in Africa itself, and her search for 'roots' in Guyana. From the very outset, this book grabs you with its sharp detail and its clear, no-nonsense style. Williams takes us into her life, and what a rich and fascinating life it is.
This is a delightfully written book. She vividly captures the sights and sounds of all the locations she has visited in her quest, mirroring the internal landscape of her personal odyssey. Dialogue is a particular strength: sometimes moving; sometimes extremely funny, and always captured unerringly. For example, a French Canadian describes life at the gold mine at Omai as 'Ferking 'ard and dangereuse. Ot, muddy, yoo-mid as ferk...Ah 'ave eatern every cheekern part zere is to eat...' For anyone who has 'eaten labba and drunk the creek water', her evocation of Guyana is wonderful and not to be missed.
The author's poetry further enriches the narrative, offering thoughful and memorable perspectives and insights into her search for 'home'. My favourite, I think, is 'Expat Life', where she describes the
coffee and gin
in an empty circle of
tapestry ladies with macrame faces
A caucus of hands that play bridge and have places to "do"
not see and live!
The question of identity is almost too much to grasp. Williams can never be Welsh, or African, or Guyanese, and yet she is all of these things. Where (for her) is 'home'?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A message for all 16 Jun 2002
Wow! What a spectacular book! 'Sugar and Slate' explores what I believe most people experience - the desire to belong. Although the author's personal struggle was between Wales and Africa, I was able to easily relate the book to my experiences as an Australian child of Italian parents.
Charlotte Williams vividly describes what I have often felt, and now I am able to appreciate my heritage even more. As a young adult woman, I am proud of my Italian roots and yearn to learn more of my family's past. 'Sugar and Slate' opens one's eyes to the past and its importance to the people we become. Congratulations on a wonderful read that not only entertains, but facilitates us all to reflect on our past.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, analytical and touching 5 Feb 2006
By A Customer
This is a beautifully written novel and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who struggles with their own sense of self. Charlotte charts her own roots in hopes of finding the answers to her own identity and discusses them with both a keen analytical mind and poetic soul.
Her descriptive writing is vivd and original, at times laced with humour. From reading the book it is clear that Charlotte is a very strong charater and makes no apologies for her opinions or the way in which she expresses them - and why should she? this is her book, her life, her journey and its an amazing read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wanting More 20 May 2011
While one can sympathize with the reader who found the episodic structure of this book difficult, I must agree with the majority of reviewers that it is very interesting and well written. I wanted to read it because I met both Denis Williams and his second wife Toni while on assignment in Guyana in the 1990s, but found that there was much more to this book than a daughter's personal memoire about a famous father. As a real West Indian, I found that it vindicates the point that I have been making for years that the second and later generation descendant of West Indian immigrants to Britain, who are refrred to in Britain as West Indians, are not West Indians at all but comprise a new social group - the black British.
Since the death of the dictator Burnham, who enticed many idealistic black Guyanese like Denis Williams to return to the country after Independence only to see their country sink into a morass of minority misgovernment perpetuated by fraudulent elections, and the restoration of democracy two decades ago, the Guyana portrayed by Charlotte Williams has changed a lot. However, her evocation of the interior of Guyana, particularly the magnificent tropical forests referred to locally as "the bush", only hints at the beauty and potential of this unfortunate and under-rated country.
My one disapppointment with the book is that it fails to mention far less explain how the author managed to make the transition from pregant teenaged juvenile delinquent to university lecturer. As a result, while her story is full of revelations about intimate personal and family affairs and interesting perceptions about larger issues, the author leaves us wanting more.
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