This Bitter Earth

( 33 )

Overview

In This Bitter Earth, Sugar Lacey is on her way out of Bigelow, Arkansas, where she’d come to break with the past. With her worn leopard-print suitcase and her head held high, she walks past the prying eyes of its small-minded, cruel-hearted townsfolk, praying for the strength to keep going. She doesn’t stop until she arrives at her childhood home in Short Junction.  Here she learns the truth about her parentage: a terrible tale of unrequited love, of one man’s enduring hatred, and of the black magic that ...

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Overview

In This Bitter Earth, Sugar Lacey is on her way out of Bigelow, Arkansas, where she’d come to break with the past. With her worn leopard-print suitcase and her head held high, she walks past the prying eyes of its small-minded, cruel-hearted townsfolk, praying for the strength to keep going. She doesn’t stop until she arrives at her childhood home in Short Junction.  Here she learns the truth about her parentage: a terrible tale of unrequited love, of one man’s enduring hatred, and of the black magic that has cursed generations of Lacey women.  A powerfully realized novel that brings back the unforgettable characters from Sugar, McFadden’s bestselling debut, This Bitter Earth is a testament to the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“McFadden’s sensuous prose and folk wisdom conjure a memorable character with complexity and grace.”  —People magazine

“At times dark and haunting but ultimately hopeful, This Bitter Earth is a riveting tale of courage and triumph.” —Heart & Soul

Reading Group Guides.com
Earthy and richly evocative, [This Bitter Earth] is a testament to the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452283817
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/17/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 575,460
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.14 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Bigelow
Winter 1955

Chapter 1

Sugar made her way down the road. The wind pushed at her back, hurrying her along and away from Bigelow and the people that gathered at the door of the church to watch her departure.

The women hugged themselves for warmth and smiled while nodding their heads and clucking their tongues in triumph while the men, including the Reverend Foster, lifted their collars against the gale as they watched Sugar's long legs and hefty bottom fade away into the gloomy night. The men hung their heads; they would miss her and the pleasure she'd given them.

Good pussy gone traveled through their minds as they patted their thighs in tribute.

Sugar walked with her head up and shoulders back as she slowly made her way down the road that had brought her to Bigelow. She moved past Fayline's House of Beauty, which was closed and empty, but the laughter that had been had there at Sugar's expense still echoed in her mind, fusing with the wind, adding to Sugar's sadness.

Sugar rounded a tight bend and the darkness swallowed her. Bigelow's residents cocked their heads and strained their eyes as they tried to penetrate the blackness, but she was gone. Not even the light tap-tap-tap of her heels could be heard.

Satisfied, they returned to their pews and their Bibles as if she had never been there at all.

Once out of their view, Sugar crumpled, her shoulders slumped and her head dipped. The secret she carried with her tore at her heart and filled her eyes with tears.

The secret hollered inside of Sugar's mouth, rattling her teeth, pushing her tongue to curl the words out. Sugar would not speak it, but she did write it.

She'd scrawled it on the corners of napkins and at the bottom of the obit section of the county newspaper. She'd written it on a page in the Sears catalogue, the one displaying hunting knives.

She wrote it in block letters, sometimes in pencil or black ink and once, just once, in red.

She kept those tiny slips of truth, folded into neat squares or crumpled into tiny balls, hiding them away in her coat pocket, because she knew she would be leaving Bigelow and she had to take the secret with her.

Lappy did it.

When she got to the mouth of town and was sure that the eyes of the Bigelow men and women were far enough away, she reached into her pocket and pulled her secret from its depths. They were heavy, those three little words on those tiny bits of paper, heavier than the blows that Lappy Clayton had covered her body with, but not as heavy as the casket that held Jude's body.

Sugar released the papers to the wind and watched as they danced and skipped their way across the cold hard ground. She covered her ears as the words screamed out to her:

Lappy did it. Lappy did it. Lappy did it.

Sugar wouldn't tell, but someone else one day would find one of those pieces of paper and they would.

She moved on, hoping that she would never have to return to Bigelow but knowing that she would. Her life had been tailored that way.

Her departure only guaranteed her return, and every step forward just put her two steps closer to where she had been

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Terry McMillan hailed Sugar as "one of the most compelling and thought-provoking novels I've read in years." Toni Morrison called The Warmest December, her second novel, "riveting...searing and expertly imagined."

This Bitter Earth picks up where Sugar left off—on the dirt road leading to Sugar's childhood home in Short Junction, Arkansas. Here, Sugar hears a shocking revelation about unrequited love, and about one man's hatred—and the black magic that has cursed generations. Her travels take Sugar to St. Louis, where the bonds of an old friendship test the limits of her courage and compassion—and the sacrifices she will make for another young woman in desperate need of a caring friend.

Filled with the lyrical language, haunting imagery, and compelling voice that imbued Sugar with its power and grace, This Bitter Earth is a novel about the inexorable power the past exerts over us and our ability to triumph over adversity and sorrow. Earthy and richly evocative, it is a testament to the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

ABOUT BERNICE L. MCFADDEN

Bernice L. McFadden was born, raised and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the eldest of four children and the mother of one daughter, R'yane Azsa.

Ms. McFadden attended grade school at P.S. 161 in Brooklyn and Middle School at Holy Spirit, also in Brooklyn. She attended high school at St. Cyril Academy an all-girls boarding school in Danville, Pa.

In the Fall of 1983 she enrolled in the noted NYC fashion college: Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, with dreams of becoming an international clothing buyer.

She attended LIM for two semesters and then took a position at Bloomingdale's and later with Itokin, a Japanese owned retail company.

Disillusioned and frustrated with her job, she signed up for a Travel & Tourism course at Marymount College where she received a certificate of completion. After the birth of her daughter in 1988, Bernice McFadden obtained a job with Rockresorts a company then owned by the Rockefeller family.

The company was later sold and Ms. McFadden was laid off and unemployed for one year. She sights that year as the turning point in her life because during those twelve months Ms. McFadden began to dedicate herself to the art of writing. During the next nine years she held three jobs, always looking for something exciting and satisfying. Forever frustrated with corporate America and the requirements they put on their employees, Ms. McFadden enrolled at Fordham University. Her intention was to obtain a degree that would enable her to move up another rung on the corporate ladder.

She signed up for courses that concentrated on Afro-American history and literature, as well as creative writing, poetry and journalism. She credits the two years spent under the guidance of her professors as well as the years spent lost in the words of her favorite authors, to the caliber of writer she has become.

During those years, Ms. McFadden made a conscious effort to write as much as possible and began to send out hundreds of query letters to agents and publishers attempting to sell one of her short stories or the novel she was working on.

In 1997, Ms. McFadden quit her job and dedicated seven months to re-writing the novel that would become, Sugar In May of 1998, after depleting her savings, she took her last and final position within corporate America.

On Feb 9th, 1999, her daughter's eleventh birthday (and Alice Walker's birthday— one of Ms. McFadden's favorite authors) she sent a query letter to an agent who signed her two weeks later and the rest is literary history!

Bernice L. McFadden is the author of three novels—the national bestsellers, Sugar and The Warmest December (now available in trade paperback from Plume) and the just-released sequel to Sugar, entitled This Bitter Earth.

She is at work on her next novel.

Praise

Praise for Bernice L. McFadden's Sugar

"Unforgettable...a haunting story that keeps pages turning until the end."—Essence

"Vivid."—The New York Times Book Review

"Strong and folksy storytelling...think Zora Neale Hurston...Sugar speaks of what is real"— The Dallas Morning News

"One of the most compelling and thought-provoking novels I've read in years. Bernice McFadden is truly a welcomed voice in the literary world."— Terry McMillan, bestselling author of A Day Late and A Dollar Short

AN INTERVIEW WITH BERNICE L. MCFADDEN

Tell us about your upbringing in the South. Are elements reflected in the story? Are any of the characters based on people you know?

While I wasn't raised in the South, my mother was. The stories she's shared with me over the years have been so vivid I guess that I've adopted the settings into my own stories. Yes, I think characteristics of people that are close to me have seeped into my characters.

How did your family's tradition of storytelling influence your writing?

A very big influence. The stories shared around the table during a holiday meal were the highlight of the gathering and I so looked forward to hearing them over and over again. I want my stories to have the same effect— stories that people will always want to return to time and time again.

Sugar is primarily about Sugar and Pearl, with the male characters taking a back seat to the female characters. And yetSugar closes with a scene that has Joe as the focus. Why did you choose not to end the story with either Sugar or Pearl actually in the scene?

Sugar's life was one big circle—every step forward put her closer to where she'd already been so it seemed only right that the story should end with a focus on Joe because he was the father to both Jude and Sugar, completing the circle.

As the mother of a daughter, was it difficult for you to write about Jude's murder? Why did you choose to maximize the horror of Jude's death by having the killer desecrate her body?

Fortunately it was not difficult to put that scene down on paper, although now when I go back to read it, it is a bit unnerving. The desecration was not a conscious choice, but exactly what I saw unfolding before me

Why did you choose to set the novel in the 1940s and 1950s instead of the present day?

My stories come to me as visions in bits and pieces—and I saw the 40's & 50's.

Sugar and Pearl's friendship forms the basis of the novel. How important are friendships in women's lives?

I take my relationships with women very seriously. I come from a family of women, so my respect for them is quite extraordinary. Friendships between women are sacred because we understand and feel for each other on levels that men are just not equipped to do.

In the beginning of Sugar there is a quote by Sarah Miles: "There's a little bit of hooker in every woman. A little bit of hooker and a little bit of God." Why did you choose to use this quote? How do you think it relates to the story?

That quote caught the whole essence of Sugar and Pearl. It speaks to the story and the good and not so good we all have inside of us.

This Bitter Earth, the sequel to Sugar, has recently been published. What can you tell us about it?

TBE is Sugar's continuing story, but it's also about a lot of the other characters that had to take a back seat in Sugar. TBE will delve further into Sugar's past as well as explain the effects her presence and consequent departure in Bigelow had on the Taylors as well as the town residents.

Are you working on a new novel?

Yes, I'm working on a story that will examine why some people love the way they do and while still others are unable to love at all.

What writers do you admire? Have any of them influenced your work?

I have great respect and admiration for Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, J. California Cooper, and Marita Golden. They have written stories that I return to time and time again for encouragement and guidance whenever I feel I've lost my way in my own stories.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What is the significance of the title, This Bitter Earth?
     
  • The novel is told in third person rather then first person narrative. What does this form of narration achieve? How would it have been different had Sugar or another character told the story?
     
  • Both Sugar and Pearl are haunted by the memory of Jude. Why is it that Jude comes to them in their dreams?
     
  • Why does Sugar want to die after Pearl and Joe try so hard to save her? What makes her finally decide to live?
     
  • Why is it that Sugar never gives up on helping Mercy? Even during those times that Sugar wants to leave, she finds she cannot. Why do you think this is?
     
  • When Mercy is going through withdrawal, she is depicted as numb and mute. It is also mentioned that Mercy has forgotten aspects of her past. Why is it that JJ (Joe Jr.) seems so familiar to her? What reason or reasons lie behind this connection?
     
  • Joe holds back from Pearl two significant secrets. What does Joe hope to achieve by not telling them to Pearl? Is he successful?
     
  • The first time that Sugar is in town, the citizens chastise her for her chosen lifestyle, never welcoming her to their little town. Why is it that when they hear her sing they change their prospective of her? Does the fact that they like her voice erase her past?
     
  • During the fourteen days of rain, when all the bodies were raising from the grave sites, why does it not bother Pearl to see her daughter's body in front of their house?
     
  • Grace and her mother both seek to marry men with money. How does a mother justify telling her daughter to marry for money rather then love?
     
  • Grace tries very hard to hide the fact that she is from the south, going so far as to lose her accent and telling others that she was born and raised in New York City. What is it that makes Grace so ashamed to admit her southern heritage?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(23)

4 Star

(6)

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(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2011

    Great Read

    Bernice McFadden tells a story like none other. Sugar encaptured me and still This Bitter Earth leaves me wanting to know more about the rest of Sugar, Pearl, Seth and JJ's lives. Her other nivels under the pen name of Geneva Holliday are just as riveting but offer a different tone frim the writer. I recommend them all

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2011

    Great Book!

    This book was good from beginning to end...I had a hard time putting it down.

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  • Posted April 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Sequel to Sugar

    This book captured how Sugar faced her demons and learned the truth about her pass. Good book!

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  • Posted March 13, 2011

    good read

    good sequel

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2009

    Wonderful Read!!!!

    I read "This Bitter Earth" and was instantly drawn to the characters and their stories. It examines how some of the most unlikly friendships can devlop if we give others a chance and opportunity to know us. True friendships take on their own form, it doesn' always fit neatly in designated areas or is just used to impress others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2008

    Awesome!

    This book is awesome. It is a great conclusion to Sugar. These two books are the only two that I faithfully recommend to anyone who asks if I know of any good books. I love the language of the book. Everyone has a purpose and the characters are well developed. Every question is answered. Full of surprises.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2005

    A must read.....

    I really enjoyed reading about Sugar in the first novel so when this book was released, I was very excited to find out what would become of Sugar. The author does a great job of putting all the pieces together in a neat little package--leaving nothing unknown. If you enjoy happy endings....Read this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2003

    Excellent

    This conclusion to Sugar was great. The ending of Sugar left secrets and surprises that all come out. Sugar has calmed down and soften a bit, but still a fiesty girl. Pearl and her husband are still wonderful and supportive to Sugar which all lead up to a great ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2003

    excellent sequel

    i read both sugar and this bitter earth in a half a day.yet these where books you can't put down once you start reading from start to finish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2003

    Ghosts From The Past

    I read this book because someone had recommeded it. I can't really say it was all that. In the begining the book is very slow and you had better pay close attention or you will miss key clues and people. To be quit honest I thought the book did alot of dancing around with the characters and the events. I think the only reason for me finishing this book was because I had already invested time and energy in it to just not finish it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2003

    Excellent! (As usual)

    I did not get around to reading this book until I was in the hospital July of 2002, and I must say this book made me forget where I was! If you read Sugar you must read This Bitter Earth to answer any questions that were raised! Bernice, you paint such beautiful pictures with your prose, I again am so happy to know you and thank you for your sharing your amazing gift with the world! Much love and continued success!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2002

    Good...but

    As I have said before of McFadden's Sugar, the language is fluid and she is definitely a storyteller. However, I think she relies too heavily on the idea of black magic( now I do think that black magic has its place in African American culture and literature), but here its like her crutch. For example, I am thinking of the black bird and the moon etc. I want to say that there is too much emphasis on Clayton, but then he plays a major part in the character's lives. With him and in other places, McFadden shows and then tells way too much-while she could also watch for shifts in person in many sentences. Otherwise it is an intriguing read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2002

    Great Mystery

    This was a great mystery about the Lacey sister's because I continued wondering which secret would be revealed next. I would say the book was slow in the beginning and picked up in the middle. I did not want to put this book down. McFadden exemplifies how everything in life has a beginning. Sugar's beginning was, well makes the reader want to continue to explore how & why it's a Bitter Earth. This book makes me want to read the first book now. In my opinion, (This Bitter Earth)it was an enjoyable read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2002

    THE BEST DINNER YOU WILL EVER HAVE!!!!!!

    This is the first book in my life I did not want it to end. I feel myself wondering through Bigelow while I'm on the train, bus. I think of Pearl, Sugar, Mercy. Bernice overwhelmed me with her talent. Buy this book it's the best investment you will have stored in your heart. I give it more than (5) stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2002

    Do Read!!!

    Really good read...but not as good as Sugar!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2002

    Expertly Written!

    I thought that this book and also the first one:(Sugar) were the best two books I have ever read! The characters were perfectly discribed and I felt as though I was right there! Keep up the good work Bernice! I love all of your work and am looking forward to your next book! Hurry! I am definately your #1 fan! I am telling everyone I know about your books and am encourageing them to read them asap. You made me feel as though I lived in that town and actually new those people...truely amazing! Thanks Bernice!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2002

    Number one rated sequel

    This Bitter Earth was not a disappointment. Ms. McFadden continues Sugar's walk through life in very good taste. I knew when I read Sugar that there had to be a sequel. I finsihed This Bitter Earth in hours. I could not put it down and anyone who picks it up will not put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2002

    What a great Sequel!!!

    I thorough enjoyed reading both books and recommended them highly to friends and family. The vastly 3 dimensional characters, all real and whole, along with Pearl's supernatural 'gifts' worked well together for me. I won't divulge the plot, but Ms. McFadden's storytelling style is second to none as she lyrically manipulates us into loving the loveable and despising the despicable (there are times, even, when she evokes at least a little sympathy for the despicable!!). Not your average cup of tea, some elements here are a bit chunky to swallow, but then again such is life. Read...Enjoy...GOD Bless

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2002

    OUTSTANDING!!!!!!!!

    'This Bitter Earth' picks up almost right where 'Sugar' ends. Considering I have finished both books in the same week, I'm going to try to not get them confused!! If you read 'Sugar,' then you MUST read TBE. TBE explains many things that occurred in 'Sugar.' Sugar Lacey has been running from or ignoring the truth about her life for more years than she'd like to remember. However, the time has come, she realizes, to turn around and face those truths that she has been running from. To do that, she must go back to the beginning and places she thought she had long since left behind her. When Sugar returns to Short Junction and the house where she was raised, she learns some shocking secrets. From Short Junction, her journey to discovery leads her back to St. Louis. What she finds there is enough to tempt her to run again, but she stays for a while in an effort to help a young girl who can no longer help herself. Sugar decides to return to Bigelow as part of her plan to save the girl who doesn't want anyone's help. In the process, Sugar, who sometimes feels that she is walking on just this side of madness, may finally find the peace she has always craved but felt she never deserved. Ms. McFadden has written a book that so completely draws you in, that I highly recommend reading it on a weekend when you can sit down and not have to worry about getting up until you are finished. Like a fine wine that lingers on the tongue, long after it is gone, so will this story linger in your mind. I was blown completely away with this book. Having to interrupt my reading by something as mundane as going to work frustrated me to no end. And while I couldn't wait to finish the book, I was saddened when I did. I wanted to know what happened AFTER. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what the AFTER is! LOL My hat is off to you, Ms. McFadden. You are a writer's writer. Your use of imagery, language and plot is just outstanding. I have now read every book you have written and I can't wait to read your next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2002

    What a sequel!!!

    For those of you who read 'Sugar' and got ticked with Lally,let's just say that you would love 'This Bitter Earth'. This novel, you travel back in time and also in the 1960s,where the novel is set. It tells of the where and whys of the books. I read it within a couple of hours and I wasn't disappointed not one bit. Neither will you.

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