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An enthralling saga written in the tradition of great Latin American storytelling, The Taste of Sugar transports readers to the fragrant fincas of Puerto Rico, where, beneath the shade of the banana and the guava trees, coffee berries ripen. It is 1898, and starving people, los hambrientos, roam the parched countryside. Under the yoke of Spanish oppression, the Caribbean island is forced to prepare to wage war with the United States.

Up in the mountainous coffee region of Utuado, Vicente Vega and Valentina Sánchez struggle to save their coffee farm from creditors. They’re helped by Vicente’s parents: Raúl, whose intentions toward Valentina are anything but fatherly; and cigar-smoking Angelina, who can’t refuse a meal to any hambriento. Just as the harvest finally picks up, the San Ciriaco hurricane of 1899 devastates the island, killing 3,369 people and leaving thousands more homeless. Weeks go by without aid from the Americans, victors of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico’s supposed liberators, but now oppressors: “Where was the help . . . from the great Republic to the North, the country of Washington and Hamilton and Lincoln?”

Along with thousands of other puertorriqueños, Vicente and Valentina are lured to the sugar plantations of Hawaii―another US territory—by the prospect of having a roof over their children’s heads, a neighborhood school, plenty of food, and real beds where they can ease into sweet dreams. Segregated from other cane workers in a Puerto Rican–only camp, the family is confronted by the hollowness of the United States’ promises of prosperity and the question of whether they will ever see their homeland again.

An unforgettable novel of love and endurance and a timeless portrait of the reasons we leave home, The Taste of Sugar “is a real contribution to the literature about the immigrant experience of yesterday—and today” (María Amparo Escandón). With her lush prose and stylistic verve, Marisel Vera emerges as a critical voice for a history too long overlooked.

Advance Praise for The Taste of Sugar

“Subtle yet arresting, The Taste of Sugar, is a gorgeous feat of storytelling.  Marisel Vera melds meticulous research with deep compassion and pure talent to fashion a novel that excavates the pain of the history while drawing hope from the buried stories of our nation.  This is historical fiction as its best, using the moral dilemmas of the past to decipher our present conflicts in order to light our way toward a more just future.” —Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

“A majestic work with the grand sweep of history and the intimacy of a compelling dream. Marisel Vera has written a compassionate, unforgettable, richly detailed novel about colonialism in all its guises, offering us little-known stories from the past that are essential to understanding the present.”
Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban

“In The Taste of Sugar, Vera adds an important contribution to Puerto Rican literature by chronicling the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, the San Ciriaco hurricane, and the mass migration to Hawaii. Throughout, Vera captures the “trabajo y tristeza” of the Puerto Rican people. Brava to Marisel Vera for telling our stories!”
Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories

“Vera eloquently tells the story of an astonishing Puerto Rican family and their countrymen and women, as their people are constantly betrayed, discarded and ruined, first by the Spanish, next by the Americans, yet they never give up hope. Haunting, mesmerizing, and heart-scorching, you will turn pages while holding your breath. You don’t just read this genius alive novel, you live it.”
Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World

“A family saga set against the backdrop of Puerto Rico in the late 1800s, The Taste of Sugar plunges us into a world where people who are struggling with profound poverty, abuse and discrimination manage to preserve their hopes, dignity, grace and the familial love that holds them together. Marisel Vera’s novel is a real contribution to the literature about the immigrant experience of yesterday—and today.”
María Amparo Escandón, author of Esperanza’s Box of Saints and González and Daughter Trucking Co.