Book Review: Bull Sugar by Virginia Aronson

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One part story-telling. One part global nutrition advocacy.

For several weeks I’ve been racing the weather at Pineapple Hill, my “beach house in a cow pasture in rural South Carolina,” anxious to add new vines to the small vineyard and new trees to the wee orchard while also planting a potted garden of vegetables and herbs. This burst of effort also included “harvesting” free dirt from the nearby cemetery and free rocks from the side of a country road. Both myself and my thirty-year-old Wrangler were getting a serious work out.

Which is why I was actually too beat to go down to hot tub where most of my reading happens. Instead I too Virginia Aronson’s new novel into the second floor hammock, turned on the ceiling fan, and tuned out bees banging into the bug screen.

I met Virginia a couple of years ago after reviewing her novel South Florida Spin, a collection of offbeat coming of age stories I described as “being out there where a bunch of us were—under-aged but getting served anyway—in dark, slightly electrically charged places where danger sat like a buzzard watching from the rafters.”

Born in Boston and educated in New England, Virginia worked as a health writer at Harvard University School of Public Health before arriving alive to the Sunshine State. Her poetry and prose have been published in small literary journals and by indie publishers. Her numerous nonfiction books include a cookbook coauthored with the White House Executive Chef, interviews with people healed of illness by extradimensional forces, and an art book featuring artists with psychoneurological disorders. She’s written textbooks for students and educational books for young readers. Under a pen name, she publishes spicy fiction. And if that’s not impressive enough, she’s also the director of the Food and Nutrition Resources Foundation that supports children, animals and the people who feed them with love and respect.

For this foundation, Virginia wrote Bull Sugar—A Not So Sweet Novel, perfectly combining her skills as a gifted writer with her advocacy of global nutrition, environmentalism, and economic social justice. Seriously folks, get out a blender like the one I make cherry vodka smoothies in, add equal measures of Virginia Aronson’s life as an author and problem solver, and out comes an entertaining and thoughtful read that takes aim at the Florida’s sugar industry—a corrupted machine that wrecks the souls of its workers, pollutes rivers and wetlands, and makes so many people obese while others are literally starving. [Note: According to the 2021 Global Nutrition Report, one in every nine people in the world is hungry, and one in every three is overweight or obese. More and more countries experience the double burden of malnutrition, where undernutrition coexists with overweight, obesity and other diet-related non-communicable diseases.]

I was a Floridian for years but never knew about the cane fields and so much heartbreak—and that sort of thing would have been on my radar screen. I rant about the banana, coffee, coal, and textile industries in my novel Blue Rubber Pool. So why didn’t I know about the sugar industry except in settings outside the U.S.A (Cuba and South America, for instance)? Did you know about this? I wonder how many of us do?

Bull Sugar—A Not So Sweet Novel (actually a novella at just over a hundred pages) tells the story of a journalist daughter seeking reasons behind for her mother’s early death due to drug and alcohol addiction. I’m not going to spoil it for you other than to say the path she follows leads back to a certain place at a certain time and the wickedness of a certain family. After the story ends, facts and references are included that bring to life what really happened and is still happening now while you’re reading this and while I’m growing grapes to make not-so-good wine.

Help save the world by buying Virginia Aronson’s Bull Sugar. Authors will reap the added bonus of seeing social justice paired with good story-telling—perhaps a new and brainy niche opening up for those wanting to read and write something different.

—Tim Bryant
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

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