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The Sweetness of Water

by Nathan Harris

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris X
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 368 pages

    May 2022, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Tony C.

Not What You Would Expect
“The Sweetness of Water” by Nathan Harris continues the tradition of emotionally moving novels based on the Reconstruction. It weaves together two stories, one about formerly enslaved people and another about Confederate soldiers, both scary when you consider the context. Yet, as with any dark period, we as readers take comfort in acts of kindness and humanity; therefore, seeing newly freedmen find a relationship with a grieving father in Georgia will engross you.
The story goes like this: Prentice and Landry recently achieved freedom and sought paid work on George Walker’s Georgia farm. George and Isabelle mourned the death of their son in the war, but then young Caleb appeared on their doorstep in reasonably good shape. The kid has a major secret that led to his departure from the war. The flap warns us that this will lead to murder, but the tease leaves us wondering what will happen and how.
Most books live or die on character development, and Harris does not spare details. He even gives a mute character an equal amount of humanity. In the land of former enslavers and Confederates, this quickly could have gone off the rails and does not. Instead, since the death occurs “on screen,” we witness a crime story in which the readers genuinely care about the victim and even the perpetrators to an extent.
At the halfway point of the novel, you do not know if you will be reading an adventure story, a morality tale, a crime drama, or a mixture. Harris makes all these threads interesting enough that you will follow, regardless. I had trouble reading about unfair treatment and justice, even though the author probably portrayed the assailants accurately. Our fights for victims’ justice are not new.
I did not see the ending; the deck was stacked against our heroes. One solution seemed too far-fetched, and the other too depressing Debut novelist Harris has some skills in achieving the appropriate balance. As a reader who subjects himself to alternating slavery and Holocaust novels, I did not go into this expecting to whistle as I closed the book and received a thorough emotional workout, as will you.
audrey geer

I urge you to read this book!
This book is extraordinary! As one who often reads historical fiction, I can say that it is rare to have characters so fully drawn. The post-Civil War South was a brutal place and the lives of everyone were disrupted. This book allows you to see into the hearts and motives and losses of all the characters. This will challenge you while breaking your heart.
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