On the face of it there should be little particular Scottish interest in a forthcoming book by an American journalist about her great-grandmother and the cruel lot she was handed by the British Empire

In the summer of 1903 at the age of 27, Sujaria Bahadur had emigrated from India to Guyana, then British Guiana, as an indentured servant, one of the half-million Indians who succeeded slaves in the West Indies after abolition of slavery by the British Parliament in 1833. But researching her book Coolie Woman, published next month, took Gaiutra Bahadur to a Highland estate.

Rosehall House, near Lairg in Sutherland, is now best known for having been the love nest of Coco Chanel and the Duke of Westminster in the 1920s. But to Gaiutra Bahadur the very name "rang with a strange intimacy, because I knew it from my childhood half a world away in Berbice, a rural province of Guyana, the former British colony at the northern tip of South America

"I was born there and, until moving to the US at the age of six, lived in a village a little more than three kiolmetres from a plantation called Rose Hall. My father lived there before me, and my grandfather before him. For four generations, relatives have worked amid the plantation's knife-sharp leaves of sugarcane. My great-grandmother, Sujaria, was the first."

As she drove through the Highlands she recognised names on signposts: Tain. Alness. Fyrish. Kildonan. All had been plantations in Berbice, and towns still bear those names. She found 30 place names that had been reproduced.

Before coming to Scotland Gaiutra had contacted David Alston, a historian who had been researching the role of Highland institutions in the slave trade. A Liberal Democrat councillor and now the deputy leader of Highland Council, Alston agreed to take her to Rosehall, where his late father had been Church of Scotland minister. Although records before 1815 no longer exist, his guess was that the plantation called Rose Hall was owned by George Baillie, a son of the laird of Rosehall, Sutherland, who had bought and sold plantations.

However Gaiutra had gone to Rosehall on the trail of one particular Highlander, the plantation overseer George William Sutherland, the son of a shepherd on the Rosehall Estate.

Sutherland had affairs with several different Indian women on Plantation Rose Hall. One of them had a son, who was christened George William Sutherland Jr. He grew up in Gaiutra's village. "My entire family knew him. They remember him as tall, thin, light-skinned, with a reputation as a brawler." The empty cottage Sutherland left behind still stands.

Alston believes Gaiutra Bahadur's book should be read by anyone with an interest in Scotland's role in empire and in particular the fate of women:

"Some had sex with overseers such as Sutherland, which could empower them, but in this society such women could also be the victims of violent attacks by jealous male labourers on the plantation. What we really are talking about here is another little-known chapter in the shameful history of slavery and forced labour."

Coolie Woman will be published by, Hurst & Co on October 17, priced £20.