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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams




Charlotte Williams is half Welsh and half Guyanese by birth. Her book, Sugar and Slate, is a reflection of the strengths and conflicts that this heritage has bequeathed her. Charlotte's father arrived in Britain from Guyana on a scholarship, and became an acclaimed artist. Consumed by a rootlessness exacerbated by life in the UK, he moves to Africa, leaving his Welsh wife to drag herself and the children after him as he pursues a lifelong search for identity. It is the mother's strong Welsh identity that sustains the family as they move through a confusing array of climates and cultures. The colour, food, and heat of Africa are far removed from the wet slate grey towns of Wales, and this conflict of identities is a running theme throughout the book. As confused as her father about her identity, Charlotte Williams explores what it means to be Black and Welsh - and sometimes white - in Africa and Guyana. The story is intertwined with a history of slate, iron, Caribbean plantations, and the African slave trade.

She explores a surprising offshoot of this trade - the church, and its role in bringing a group of young African boys to Wales to train as missionaries. As she relates their history, she empathises with the boys' role in Welsh society; their loneliness, their mixed identities, and the difficulties faced by Africans who stayed on to marry Welsh girls and raise families. Perceived as white or a 'Frostie' when she travels in later life to Guyana to further her search for self and re-establish links with her father, Charlotte Williams finds that she must reassess her relationship not only with her father but with her husband and with herself in the context of what proves, as she travels amongst both ex-pats and Guyanans, to be a surprisingly foreign society. The author finds a certain peace by the end of the book in the knowledge that 'to be mixed race is not to be half anything; mixed, but not mixed up'. A lively, well written and provocative book, Sugar and Slate succeeds both as travel writing and as a personal anthology.

http://www.welsh-lit-abroad.org/


Posted by jebratt :: Wednesday, April 05, 2006 :: 0 comments

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