The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Reviewed by Karen Lane, Need a Read
Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Award, on Oprah’s Book Club Choice and on President Obama’s summer reading list, The Sweetness of Water comes highly, highly recommended.  If you, like me, loved Cold Mountain and Days without End, then please give this stunning debut a go.  Despite the violence and tragedy inherent in those times, The Sweetness of Water reminds us that it just takes a few good people to keep hope alive.

In the dying days of the American Civil War, newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss find themselves cast into the world without a penny to their names. Forced to hide out in the woods near their former Georgia plantation, they're soon discovered by the land's owner, George Walker, a man reeling from the loss of his son in the war.  When the brothers begin to live and work on George's farm, a tentative bond of trust develops between the strangers. But this sanctuary survives on a knife's edge, and it isn't long before the inhabitants of the nearby town of Old Ox react with fury at the alliances being formed only a few miles away.

The Sweetness of Water weaves together two different tales set in the wake of the war – that of a pair of Confederate soldiers whose love for each other must be kept hidden at all costs, and the story of two formerly enslaved brothers for whom emancipation brings terrifying uncertainty as well as unpredictable opportunities. Devastating and then heartwarming, horrifying and then hopeful.  I thought it was a beautiful read about the connections between human beings in terrible times.
The Sweetness of Water is a fine, lyrical novel, impressive at the level of the sentence, and in its complex interweaving of the grand and the intimate, of the personal and political. In presenting two narratives largely overlooked in traditional renderings of the war, Harris breathes new life into a period of history whose stories have grown stale with overtelling. -The Guardian


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