The Sweetness of Water (Oprah's Book Club)
An Instant New York Times bestseller / An Oprah’s Book Club Pick
In the spirit of The Known World and The Underground Railroad, an award-winning “miraculous debut” (Washington Post) about the unlikely bond between two freedmen who are brothers and the Georgia farmer whose alliance will alter their lives, and his, forever
In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry—freed by the Emancipation Proclamation—seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.
Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. The young men, recently returned from the war to the town of Old Ox, hold their trysts in the woods. But when their secret is discovered, the resulting chaos, including a murder, unleashes convulsive repercussions on the entire community. In the aftermath of so much turmoil, it is Isabelle who emerges as an unlikely leader, proffering a healing vision for the land and for the newly free citizens of Old Ox.
With candor and sympathy, debut novelist Nathan Harris creates an unforgettable cast of characters, depicting Georgia in the violent crucible of Reconstruction. Equal parts beauty and terror, as gripping as it is moving, The Sweetness of Water is an epic whose grandeur locates humanity and love amid the most harrowing circumstances.
One of President Obama's Favorite Books of 2021
Winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
Winner of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction
Winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Book Award for Fiction
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
Longlisted for the 2022 Carnegie Medal for Excellence
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Longlisted for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize
A Best Book of the Year: Oprah Daily, NPR, Washington Post, Time, Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Chicago Public Library, BookBrowse, and the Oregonian
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A July 2021 Indie Next Pick
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
With its unforgettable characters and gripping, immersive plot, Nathan Harris’ debut novel is the kind of book that makes you grateful to be a reader. Set in the fictional Georgia town of Old Ox, the story unfolds in the weeks immediately after the end of the Civil War, as Union soldiers enforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. After formerly enslaved brothers Prentiss and Landry leave the plantation owned by the cruel and vindictive Ted Morton, they wander on to the forested land of Morton’s iconoclastic neighbors, George and Isabelle Walker. The unlikely relationships that develop among these characters set off a chain of events that will dramatically alter each of their lives. The Sweetness of Water is a work of historical fiction that feels vital and fresh. It reminds us that we must all fight against beliefs and systems designed to keep people from being free.
Harris's ambitious debut explores the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation in rural Georgia. In the small town of Old Ox, eccentric George Walker, whose land borders a plantation, is grieving for the son he believes to have been killed in battle when he meets up with two young brothers who until recently had been enslaved at the house next door. Talkative Prentiss and his silent brother Landry have been attempting to live off the land while figuring out their next move, and they accept George's offer of work converting his land to a peanut farm. When George's son, Caleb, returns, the balance in the household is upset, and violence ensues after Landry is caught witnessing a secret sexual rendezvous between Caleb and sadistic August Webler, heir to one of the richest families in the county. Harris peoples the small community with well-developed characters, including George's quietly determined wife, Isabelle, and a mixed-race prostitute with whom George shares the secrets he can't confide to Isabelle. Harris writes in intelligent, down-to-earth prose and shows a keen understanding of his characters, and while the plot leads to several tragic events, there's a tinge of hope at the end. This character study is credible and deeply moving.
Beautifully imagined story of what must must have been the cataclysm of the post civil war era
It started out great
It was a great story and I thought an actual depiction of the civil war. Once he wrote in the same sex encounters between soldiers it changed. No need. Should have just stayed with the war, the free slaves etc.
It is hard to believe that this book os Nathan Harris’ debut novel. For a first attempt he crafted a story that is concurrently as old as time and fresh in vision. A journey of varied personas interweaving and displacing each other simultaneously. The stories culminating into a single vista that shows us the unraveling of reality brought on by the outcomes and violence of war.
Setting the story in the promise and disappointment of the Reconstruction period dredges up old wounds and conflicts. A fresh coat of paint is applied to this worn picture using distinct marginalized and harried voices we don’t often get to see from this time period. There is no rosy retelling of a broken past but instead a recasting of how hope springs from the ashes of heartbreak.
Harris demonstrates unique talent in how his character building by way of the thoughtful clarity he gives to each voice and artful word craft. The combination presents the reader with glimpses into the power of dreams and nightmares alike. Showing us how the hopes and fears of each character motivates each towards their true self. I don’t envy Nathan Harris for the task he has now of following up this brilliant work.