It is 1898, and groups of starving Puerto Ricans, los hambrientos, roam the parched countryside and dusty towns begging for food. 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 Sanchez labor to keep their small farm from the creditors. When the Spanish-American War and the great San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899 bring devastating upheaval, the young couple is lured, along with thousands of other puertorriquenos, to the sugar plantations of Hawaii―another US territory―where they are confronted by the hollowness of America's promises of prosperity. Writing in the tradition of great Latin American storytelling, Marisel Vera's The Taste of Sugar is an unforgettable novel of love and endurance, and a timeless portrait of the reasons we leave home.
"A sprawling family epic that stretches from the mountains of Puerto Rico to Hawaii and across decades of love, famine, and war. . . . Vera tells a grand story using innovative techniques. . . . The Vega and Sánchez families are made up of vivid, fully realized characters, and Vera has a knack for writing dialogue that is full of personality. Her descriptions of Puerto Rico’s natural beauty are impressive . . . [T]he reader will emerge with a deep sense of Puerto Rican history and suffering that has been lost to most Americans . . . Vera’s breakout novel is a sweeping, emotional tale that puts her characters, and her readers, through an emotional wringer."-- Kirkus Reviews
"Vera’s saga is impeccably timed to provide insights into the troubling history of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, and showing that the colonization of puertorriquenos extended to the Pacific fills a gap in history for many. Recommended for anyone who enjoys epic stories of hardship and loss as well as the perseverance, love, and strength drawn from one’s family and culture."-- Faye Chadwell, Library Journal
“Enthralling. . . . [I]n a sense, The Taste of Sugar is a corrective to those French melodramas that Valentina once devoured: It’s a passionate love story purified in the crucible of suffering. . . . Intimate and finely drawn details are nested within a masterful work of historical fiction that traces monumental economic and political currents. . . . [A] Latino Grapes of Wrath.”-- Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Capacious.... A young woman, relinquishing a dream of one day seeing Paris, marries a coffee farmer and struggles to find a role in her new household.... The book, yoking family crises to geopolitical ones, succeeds in creating characters who feel individuated rather than schematic. The coffee farmer, observing his disenchanted bride, wonders, 'Why did all the women in his family stare out the window?'”-- The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted"
“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
“Tapping into her Puerto Rican heritage and conducting plenty of research, [Vera] presents a heartfelt depiction of once-proud coffee plantation hacendados (owners) in very difficult times. . . . Progressing chronologically, the omniscient narrator seamlessly folds in Spanish words and phrases as well as epistolary interludes . . . Vera’s novel is historical fiction at its best, featuring engaging survivors from a forgotten past.”-- Sara Martinez, Booklist
“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