Book review

The Sweetness of Water

Nathan Harris

In a few words

A powerfully written debut by 29-year-old Nathan Harris, The Sweetness of Water is set against the backdrop of the Confederate Army’s Civil War defeat. The book looks at the effect of emancipation on the newly released slaves and the change to the social structure of a community dealing with returning soldiers, and those who didn’t return. Two such former slaves (brothers Prentiss and Landry) meet landowner George Walker by chance in the woods, and their lives intersect in ways none of them could have predicted when George offers them paid work on his farm, thus enraging the white inhabitants of ‘Old Ox’. 

As a parallel storyline, George’s recently returned soldier son, Caleb, is in an illicit relationship with another soldier – this leads to events that will affect them all profoundly.

Great for

This would appeal to readers who might be interested in the two narratives (freedom and forbidden love), perhaps largely overlooked in traditional tales of the Civil War. I enjoyed reading about the various forms of love depicted (familial, romantic, platonic) and how these relationships can be both a source of comfort and conflict.

Why I love this book

I found this to be exquisitely written with sentences I read several times to savour, about characters I came to love. Peripheral characters like Isabelle (George’s wife) and Mildred (Isabelle’s friend) developed as the story progressed, and added to the overall charm, as did George’s (platonic) friendship with the prostitute Clementine. I loved the focus on hope despite everything in this tale of ordinary people living in an extraordinary time.  

My one criticism would be

No criticisms from me, but it isa book that takes time to read.  Contains racism, racial slurs, some violence (including a murder) – also covers death, grief and homophobia. Don’t let this put you off reading it!  

Cherie Gordon

Book Stock Coordinator

Cherie has read a large number of BDS titles through her book group and her role on the BDS Book Selection Committee. She is particularly keen on character-driven fiction, dystopian fiction and also those with darker themes.

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