Monday 21 August 2023

☼Summer Reading ~ Azúcar by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Destination ...Caribbean 

Peepal Tree Press Ltd

8 June 2023

My thanks to the publisher and Tory Lyne-Perkis for my copy of this book

Part socio-political satire, part romance, Azúcar (sugar) is the long awaited second novel from the critically acclaimed Ghanaian-British novelist, Nii Ayikwei Parkes (author of award winning novel Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape). Set in a world where everything is on the move: people, ideas, food and music, Azúcar is a magic realist tale set on a fictional island in the Caribbean that asks what price we pay to have a place called ‘home’?

Sonada Sun is the sweetest rice in the world, and on the mythical Caribbean Island of Fumaz two young lovers, Ghanaian-born, Caribbean-raised musician Yunior and Caribbean-American college student Emelina Santos, heiress of the Soñada dynasty, lock eyes at a fiesta yards from her family’s city home.

In the ensuring years Yunior and Emelina travel divergent journeys through history, music, myth and heartbreak; confronting the question of what it means to belong to a place or to another person. Several years later the two are united in a quest to save Emelina’s family’s plantation from closure. To succeed they must find a way to bring back to life a plantation with soil so saturated with sugar that it can no longer support crops.

Yunior brings the knowledge of a scientist, the skills of a farmer and the heart of a musician to life in Fumaz. As a farmer, he sees how much of his West African food has journeyed across the Atlantic to make the island’s unique cuisine; as a musician he becomes part of the spirit that puts the island on the world stage, out of all proportion to its size.

Love and death, harmony and conflict are the motives of a set of vividly drawn characters, brought alive by Parkes’ flowing, elegant and heartfelt prose, that alongside people, food and music moves freely back and forth across the seas between Africa and the Caribbean.

📖 My Review..

In ordinary circumstances, Ghanaian-born, Caribbean-raised musician Yunior and Caribbean-American college student Emelina Santos, heiress of the Soñada dynasty, would never have met, that is, until fate brings them together. 

Set on a fictional island in the Caribbean, music, life, love, tragedy and heartbreak bring these two beautiful people together in a lyrical story which looks at the idea of destiny, what it means to be family and of the importance of bringing life back to those who have had hope taken away from them. A short but powerful story I read Azúcar in one sitting and was captured by Yunior's story as he pursues his dream but was also equally invested in Emalina's quest to fulfill her destiny by taking control of her family's sugar-soaked rice plantation. 

In Azúcar two quite separate stories converge and both Yunior and Emelina are lively protagonists however, it is their individualism which brings them together and their very differences which make this into such a compelling and beautifully written story about the need to find the place we call 'home'.

About Nii Ayikwei Parkes

London based Ghanaian-British writer, editor and publisher, Nii Ayikwei Parkes is one of the UK’s leading black voices, winning critical acclaim as a poet, novelist, broadcaster, and children’s author.

His debut novel, Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape, 2009), was hailed by the Financial Times as ‘a beautifully written fable… simple in form, but grappling with urgent issues,’ and lauded internationally, becoming a bestseller in Germany and notably winning France's two major prizes for translated fiction – Prix Baudelaire and Prix Laure Bataillon – in 2014. He is also the author of two books for children – The Parade and Tales from Africa – under the pen name K.P. Kojo.

A published poet since 1999, his poem, ‘Tin Roof’, was selected for the Poems on the Underground initiative in 2007, followed by the poem ‘Barter,’ chosen from his first full poetry collection The Makings of You (2010). His 2020 poetry collection The Geez, was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, shortlisted for the Walcott Prize and was a Poetry Book Society 2020 Recommendation, while his a Ga language book, The Ga Picture Alphabet was shortlisted for the 2021 Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize.

He is the author of the poetry chapbooks: his début eyes of a boy, lips of a man (1999), M is for Madrigal (2004), a selection of seven jazz poems; and Ballast (2009), an imagination of the slave trade by balloon.

In 2001 Nii Ayikwei Parkes founded flipped eye publishing, a UK based publishing house which focuses on voices from the margins of British society. As editor and publisher at flipped eye Nii has played a key role in developing poets including Inua Ellams, Malika Booker and Nick Makoha as well as publishing the débuts of award-winning writers including Roger Robinson, Warsan Shire and Nikesh Shukla.

Nii Ayikwei is the literature programmer for Brighton Festival the city’s annual multi-cultural arts festival and serves on the boards of World Literature Today and the AKO Caine Prize. Previously he has served as a judge for several literature prizes including the Commonwealth Prize, the NSK Neustadt Prize and the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize. In 2014 he was named one of Africa's 39 most promising authors of the new generation by the World Book Capital Africa 39 Project.

Outside of literature, Nii Ayikwei has written for publications such as the Financial Times, National Geographic, the Guardian and VICE, created adverts for the likes of Guinness and DHL, and modelled for Toyota and Ozwald Boateng.

Twitter @BlueBirdTail


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