Sweet Bitter Cane is an historical family saga set in Australia.
The story begins in Italy during 1920. Amelia is getting married but her brother stands in as proxy, because Amelia’s husband lives in Australia. Wishing to escape from the limitations of village life, Amelia agrees to set sail for Queensland as a mail order wife.
Upon her arrival in Brisbane, Amelia is disappointed when Italo, her new husband, is not there to meet her. This is her first experience of being second-place to the mighty sugar cane crop. Instead, oddball and war veteran Fergus Kelly has been sent to escort Amelia to her new home.
Few women live in the area where Italo farms. It is a rough place. There is a small Italian community, but they are despised by the local Australians, white people who ironically want to oust those they see as immigrants.
The story continues through Amelia’s life: the hardships of growing sugar cane, the lead up to World War Two, and the troubles Amelia experiences during it.
I took out most of the paragraph above, as I think it gave away too much of the plot, and was getting into the realm of synopsis rather than review!
The author paints a great picture of the landscape and the hardships of the times. I thought the characters were well-written with a depth which made them believable. I do enjoy stories which feature the vast Australian terrain. This book reminded me of another epic tale that I like, The Thorn Birds.
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One woman. Two men. A war.
Twenty-year-old Amelia marries Italo, a man she’s never met. To escape an Italy reeling from the Great War, she sails to him in Far North Queensland to farm sugarcane. But before she meets her husband, she’s thrown into the path of Fergus, a man who’ll mark the rest of her life.
Faced with a lack of English and hostility from established cane growers, caught between warring unions and fascists, Amelia’s steady hand grows Italo’s business to great success, only for old grudges to break into new revenge. She is tested by forces she couldn’t foresee and must face her greatest challenge: learning to live again.
Sweeping in its outlook, Sweet Bitter Cane is a family saga but also an untold story of migrant women – intelligent, courageous and enduring women who were the backbone of the sugarcane industry and who deserve to be remembered.