This Bitter Earth

This Bitter Earth

by Bernice L. McFadden


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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: 312,754
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 - 17 Years

About the Author

Bernice L. McFadden is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including SugarLoving DonovanNowhere Is a PlaceThe Warmest DecemberGathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors' Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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


Excerpted from "This Bitter Earth"
by .
Copyright © 2002 Bernice L. McFadden.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

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 Guide


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 offon 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 hatredand 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 compassionand 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.



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 novelsthe 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 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



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 circleevery 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 piecesand 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.


  • 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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    This Bitter Earth 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
    pinkcrayon99 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
    All I can say is that this book had me gasping all the way til the end. I can't describe how much I enjoyed this book. Of course we know that Sugar ended with Sugar Lacey leaving Bigelow, AR wounded mentally and physically. This book picks her up walking back to the home she was raised in with the Lacey sisters.At the Lacey home Sugar finally gets the answers she have been looking for all her life. When all the Lacey sisters die she retraces her steps back to Mary's house in St. Louis. In Sugar, she found her "smile" in this very home but now she finds tragedy. Sugar buries Mary and rescues Mercy from a downward spiral. Sugar heads to the only place she knows that heals, Bigelow. Upon arrival in Bigelow, Sugar is immediately confronted with the past.Sugar went backward to move forward and redeemed herself along with a few others. McFadden really grew as a writer from her first novel Sugar to this her third. There was never a dull moment. You would have to read Sugar to really appreciate how McFadden tied every loose end into a knot in This Bitter Earth. I really hated to let this book go. The characters will hold on to me for a while.
    altima313 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    This novel was a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful story. She walks in the shoes of every character with such honesty and's superb. You find out Sugar's past, present and future in this book. It really pulled the pieces together from "Sugar".Bernice McFadden has the ability to tell a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and will have you dreaming about the story. Sugar, Jude, Joe, Pearl, and Lappy are unforgetable characters and will stay with you long after you've finished the book. I like how all the family ties all came together.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Loved it
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Easy to read and enjoyable .
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I couldn't put this book down. Extremely well written from start to finish. Highly recommend.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A moving sequel of Sugar's life. This story tells about her healing emotional , physical , and mental. There is a saying that everything comes in full circle . This was a great follow up and I couldn't put it down because I just had to know what became of Sugar Lacey and I was not disappointed at all.
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    aprilshowers101 More than 1 year ago
    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
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was good from beginning to end...I had a hard time putting it down.
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    Mzdooly More than 1 year ago
    This book captured how Sugar faced her demons and learned the truth about her pass. Good book!
    Nik Matt More than 1 year ago
    good sequel
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    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!