In her immersive modern fairy tale, Forbes (A Permanent Freedom) unspools an unlikely love story as well as a haunting, hypnotic piece of postcolonial Jamaican history. A strange newborn baby is found in a basket in 1958 and adopted. Ghostly pale and fragile, with hair that is part blond, part black, Moshe Fisher is deemed an outsider by his peers until, on his first day of elementary school, he meets Arrienne Christie, a slightly older girl who shares his intellectual aptitude and aversion to speech. Arrienne is also the novel’s narrator, interjecting and opining with verve as she and Moshe come of age—she a burgeoning political mind, he a talented visual artist. Their slow-burning love story is tested when Moshe’s desire to learn more about his biological father takes him to Britain. Arrienne’s recount moves in hopscotch fashion, but it’s driven forward by her enchanting voice, to which Forbes brings an electric lyricism. Her dialogue beautifully captures the lilt and variety of Jamaican patois: “If yu lef outa dis house tonight, don’t come back, stay by yu fadda.” Forbes’s ambitious, fantastic tale will appeal to fans of multigenerational sagas . (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Forbes' novel, rich in metaphors and biblical and fairy-tale allusions, explores the cyclical nature of birth and death, and the overwhelming and terrifying power of love. It is also a forceful critique of colonialism...Born to this complicated heritage, Moshe and Arrienne discover their voices in art and social protest as Jamaica grapples with independence and identity. A fascinating post-colonial blend of romance, social history, and myth."
Booklist , Starred review
"In her immersive modern fairy tale, Forbes unspools an unlikely love story as well as a haunting, hypnotic piece of postcolonial Jamaican history...Arrienne's recount moves in hopscotch fashion, but it's driven forward by her enchanting voice, to which Forbes brings an electric lyricism. Her dialogue beautifully captures the lilt and variety of Jamaican patois...Forbes's ambitious, fantastic tale will appeal to fans of multigenerational sagas."
Publishers Weekly , Starred review
"Opening in the late 1950s in Jamaica, ending in the present, and tracing a mysterious love affair, this story follows Moshe Fisher, a man born with a unique skin condition, and his soul mate, Arrienne Christie, who makes it her duty to protect him."
Publishers Weekly , Fall 2019 Adult Announcements (Literary Fiction)
Included in BookRiot's Fall 2019 Preview !
A Tall History of Sugar was named one of Publishers Weekly's Big Literary Fiction Books of BookExpo 2019
"I'm so impressed by this book! Curdella Forbes weaves a magical, melodic, folkloric tale of characters that I feel I utterly know, that are iconic in personality and description, yet somehow remain mysterious to me, leaving them constantly on my mind. Set in Jamaica, heavy on patois, I felt immersed in the inner world of these two unforgettable characters."
Rebecca Fitting (co-owner, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY)
" A Tall History of Sugar is captivating from the very first page. Mythic in dimension yet movingly human in its details, alive with atmospheric richness, it heralds a fascinating new voice in English-language fiction."
Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Manhattan Beach
"Curdella Forbes gives us Moshe and Arrienne, two mesmerizing and unforgettable characters who travel through this wonderful novel in the most unpredictable directions. Through them, a tall history is told of a relationship that no reader will ever forget."
Terry McMillan, author of Waiting to Exhale
"From the opening lines of her brilliantly revelatory A Tall History of Sugar , Curdella Forbes convinces us that it is yet possible to transform English into a language of seductive power, surprise, and fresh truth. She tells a compelling archetypal love story of human complexity that is rooted in an acute sense of the history of Jamaica, and one that speaks with such ease and beauty that the language seems wholly new and splendidly accessible. Curdella Forbes has achieved something resonant and remarkable in this delightful novel."
Kwame Dawes, author of City of Bones
"Curdella Forbes has proven herself to be a lineage holder in the tradition of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. A Tall History of Sugar is a wise and sagacious story about the one thing that matters most of all in the universe: love. Forbes has a deep understanding and compassion for her characters and a keen knowledge of the world they inhabit. It is an important book, no doubt."
Michael Imperioli, author of The Perfume Burned His Eyes
A tale of love and struggle that crosses decades and continents.
This is Forbes' (Ghosts, 2014, etc.) fifth work of fiction, and she writes with the confidence and poetic nerve of a seasoned veteran. In 1958, four years before Jamaica's independence from Britain, a woman named Rachel finds an abandoned baby in a wicker basket. She names him Moshe, or Moses, and raises him as her own. Moshe was born with skin that had not yet fully developed. He's neither black nor white. He's bluish, with his veins visible beneath his thin, translucent skin. One eye is blue and the other is brown, and the hair on the front of his head is bleach blond while the hair on the back is black. Moshe's appearance marks him: "The child seemed to represent some kind of perverse alchemy that had taken place in the deep earth, between tectonic plates, where he was fashioned. People said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made." As a child, Moshe's only friend is Arrienne, who in many ways is all that Moshe is not. She is loud, assertive, strong, and, in later years, becomes a political activist. He is solitary, insecure, and quietly artistic. Yet the love between them stretches across decades and follows Moshe as he leaves Jamaica and finds fame as an artist in England. Forbes lets her novel sing with all the languages of Jamaica and Britain. She has an uncanny knack for patois and dialect, including Jamaican English, the Queen's English, and everything in between. In some ways this book tells a story of a love too deep to become romantic. In other ways it's a novel of colonialism and its tragic aftermath of racism and economic despair. But most of all, the book is a journey. The characters so vivid, their depictions so intimate, that the skin of the pages themselves almost pulse beneath the reader's fingers.
A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires.