10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
A rewarding read, 12 Jan 2011
Sugar Island tells the story of Emily, a young English actress who, while working in America, falls in love with and marries an American lawyer. Not long after their wedding he is called back to run his family's sugar plantation on St Simon's Island off the coast of Georgia. Emily had no idea that he was anything other than a lawyer and so it is a huge shock to end up living as the wife of a slave owner. She keeps a diary of her life there, detailing the horrific and cruel practices that were common on plantations. As the novel is based on real diaries written at the time - late 1850s - the detail is as harrowing as it is authentic. The beauty of the island provides a stark contrast to the horrors being perpetuated on the plantation. The colours, textures, scents and sounds convey a real sense of place and combine to underline the terrible dichotomy of Emily's life there. Her life is a struggle to come to terms with the fact that the man she loved can be so brutal and she finds that her attempts to improve the slaves' lot actually make it worse. She can't leave the island as she has too much to lose, yet how can she stay and live a life of relative luxury in the midst of such deprivation. This novel is beautifully written and, though harrowing to read, it is ultimately rewarding for its depiction of Emily's struggle and her determination to stay true to her principles.