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The Sweetness of Water
Cover of The Sweetness of Water
The Sweetness of Water
A Novel

In the spirit of The Known World and The Underground Railroad comes a story 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.

In the spirit of The Known World and The Underground Railroad comes a story 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.

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About the Author-
  • Nathan Harris holds an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas. He is a recipient of the University of Oregon's Kidd Prize and was a finalist for the Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize. He is a graduate of Ashland High School, Ashland, Oregon, and lives in Austin, Texas. The Sweetness of Water is his first novel.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 24, 2021
    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. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt & Hochman.

  • AudioFile Magazine William DeMeritt's versatile narration eases listeners into the unsettled landscape of late-Civil-War-era Georgia in this powerfully affecting novel. This ambitious debut explores themes of forgiveness, family, pride, community, and the societal costs of racism and injustice. The violence in this world is startling but never surprising. DeMeritt's vibrant and convincing portrayals of a wide cast of memorable local residents will linger in listeners' minds. Particularly impressive are DeMerittt's depictions of female characters, especially Isabelle, whose resolve and wisdom come through in his quiet, authentic tones. He expresses the complex emotional dimensions of Isabelle's husband, George, and their idealistic son, Caleb, as well as the two recently emancipated Black brothers, Landry and Prentiss, who are enlisted to work on their farm. A rewarding listen. M.J. � AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine
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