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Publisher Description

A lyrical and spellbinding story of love, loss, and war from a standout new voice in fiction. Katy Simpson Smith has already been acclaimed as an ‘heir apparent to to Michael Ondaatje and Marilynne Robinson’

August, 1793. On the hot, humid coast of North Carolina nine-year-old Tabitha fills her pockets with fish bones and shells, to bring the ocean back to her room. The act, perhaps, of a child conceived at sea.

At night young Tab sits with her father by the shore to hear stories of her mother Helen, the pull of the ocean born into them both. John longs to sail the sea as he did before the war, but knows he must stay on steady land for his daughter. But when Tab catches yellow fever John turns to what he knows, and steals her onto a boat bound for Bermuda in the hope the sea air will cure, as Tab’s precious life hangs in the balance.

The same coast twenty years earlier, and Helen is given a slave girl for her tenth birthday. Moll’s arrival is intended to teach Helen discipline but soon the girls are confidantes, an unlikely alliance. It’s an enduring friendship until the arrival of John, a pirate turned soldier. And as the town is threatened in the dying embers of the Revolution, Helen must decide between a life of security on the family plantation and a sea adventure with the man she loves.


‘Pure pleasure…the best novel I’ve read all year’ Anita Shreve

‘A wonderful novel of heartbreaking grief but also of redemptive hope … In high but warranted praise it very much evoked Marilynne Robinson’s acclaimed GILEAD’ Chicago Tribune (Editor’s Pick)

‘Poignant and intensely lyrical’ NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

‘Smith’s soulful language of loss is almost biblical, and the descriptions of her characters’ sorrows are poetic and moving’ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

‘From the start, Ms. Smith’s spare, rhythmic prose captivates Her refusal to serve up false redemption is admirable’ NEW YORK TIMES

‘Smith has a real gift for describing both hope and despair … she is absolutely a writer to watch’ NPR

‘Among the most assured debut novels in recent memory, it heralds the birth of a major new talent’ VOGUE

‘Astonishingly relatable characters’ HUFFINGTON POST

About the author

Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson,
Mississippi. She attended Mount Holyoke College
and received a PhD in history from the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the
Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as
an adjunct professor at Tulane University and has published
a study of early American motherhood, We Have
Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750–1835.
She lives in New Orleans.

Edoardo Ballerini
hr min
January 29