British Guyana – The Secret Life of Winnie Cox – Sharon Maas

WINNIE

Why a booktrail?

1910 South America – A time of racial tension and poverty. A time where forbidden love must remain a secret.

Story in a nutshell

Winnie Cox and her sister Johanna grow up playing in the fields of their father’s sugar cane plantation. Their lives are filled with days playing and living a happy and carefree existence, unaware of the poverty that surrounds them just yards from their home.

But then Winnie falls in love with George, a lowly post-office boy and someone with very different coloured skin to her own…something which in those days, could cause a  young girl serious problems. She keeps things secret and starts to lead a double life but as she withdraws from her family, she soon discovers a shocking secret about those who she thought she knew.

Where does this leave her and George and what price will she have to pay when all is said and done?

Place and setting

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British Guyana  -1910

A very different time and place - British Guyana 1910  The Courentyne Coast east of New Amsterdam, New Amsterdam, Rosignol and Georgetown
A very different time and place – British Guyana 1910
The Courentyne Coast east of New Amsterdam, New Amsterdam, Rosignol and Georgetown

The cover shows the time and place in one striking image, A white girl and a black boy holding hands yet at a distance, in the middle of a field of sugar cane. In British Guyana at that time as in many other places around the world, racism was a powerful force which separated people, split families and loyalties and caused untold misery and isolation.

The plantation

The plantation is a happy and serene place..at first…but then like a film camera which pans out to show the surrounding area, the atmosphere is not as nice as first imagined for the poverty and racism lies just beyond its borders. The sisters describe themselves as –

‘Sugar Princesses in a magical realm, a sunlit, wind blown, bubble of sweetness. Sugar was our livelihood, sugar determined the seasons, sugar was our world’.

This utopia does not last for long however for this is a sheltered and protected world and the sugar princesses are not aware of the  world outside. Their happy lives it would seem, came at a price. Her father has created this world, and has created a persona for himself that his children never question. His actions and behaviour are not what they first appear.

Outside the plantation

Once the sugar coating comes off the picture, Winnie and her sister realise just what the real world is like, They start to see their island their home through very different eyes. This is a world that they do not understand and events in this world soon start to spiral out of control. This is a  world in which slavery existed and thrived despite the fact that is had been legally abolished in the 1800s, it has survived here for the living conditions of many people living here are poor and wages are low. Tensions are bubbling away under the surface but things are about to take a dangerous turn.

At the heart of this is the girls father and his treatment of his workers.

Review

Bring out the tissues for this is no easy read. A brilliantly moving and raw account of love however and it’s been a while since I had to stay up so late to spend time with these people and Winnie in particular to see how things would work out.

Winnie – how brave and determined this girl was to go against her family and follow her heart? A different time and place yes, but I think we could all learn something from her spirit. The instant attraction between the two is clear and my heart was pounding as if it were me feeling the first flushes of love – the emotions and flutters were very well evoked and the threads of this love affair as they are woven into the full picture each represented an important development in their relationship.

How would I have acted if I was Winnie? This is where the book really got me as I felt I was on the journey with her ever step of the way. To have such a nice life only then to find out the truth behind the sugar sweet world your parents have created must have been such a shock. Set in 1910 it might be, but over 100 years later and it was just as shocking to me.

I did think the diary entries which explain the life of Archie and Ruth, the girl’s parents was particularly interesting as they help give a new insight into the book’s themes. When the two threads of this story mix, the result has quite a force to it, that resonates long after reading it.

I believe this is the first of three books and Sharon Maas I hope it is, as this was a world I was totally immersed in and I need more. There is a lot more to explore and I hope she does, for its messages are powerful and timeless.

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