Cover Image: The Sweetness of Water

The Sweetness of Water

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Member Reviews

Wow, what a read.. Nathan Harris tackles freed slaves, the end of the civil war and homosexuality, in such a beautiful manner.  A farmer & his wife are grieving for their son, who didn’t come home from the war and they are struggling to keep up their farm. There is too much land and poor George and his wife can’t seem to grieve and take care of themselves. Two brothers, who were slaves and now free, from the Emancipation Proclamation are eager to get north. They want to head north and start a bee life & maybe find their mom.. They find themselves on George’s land and between the men they come to an arrangement. The men will help with the land, for a fair wage and lodging. They are hesitant to trust George but a friendship, dare I say, develops. As this is happening two confederate soldiers, are in a relationship and they have trysts in the woods. Their relationship is discovered.. With this exposed everything goes to hell.. A murder happens, brothers Prentice and Landry are involved as well as George & Isabelle. Nathan’s writing is excellent. The story is filled with every emotion, the characters are all so human and well developed. I was so surprised that this was a debut novel.. It was just so good. I honestly couldn’t put it down and the story line didn’t disappoint. This was most certainly a 5 star read for me..
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It’s getting rave reviews for a reason. A beautifully written story that I will be recommending to my customers. Perfect for fans of literary fiction with romance.
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This is a rarity but I did not finish. The writing was good but I had troubles connecting to the story and character development. This book wasn’t bad in my opinion based on what I read it just wasn’t for me
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I had hesitated reading this novel, passing it by. Then, I was seeing it mentioned over and over. I went back and claimed my ‘read now’ privilege, late to the party.

The writing is wonderful. It is set after the end of the Civil War, just before Federal troops arrive to reconstruct the South. Freedmen have fled the plantations and their previous owners can’t accept they no longer own them. In the town of Old Ox, sons are returning from the war, even a son who was believed to have died.

George Walker holds dear the memory of his childhood friend who was sold away to a man bent on misusing the girl. George has never amounted to much, preferring books to farming. At night, he walks the woods searching for the monster who haunted him since childhood.

One night, lost and exhausted, he is found by two freedmen who have been living in the woods. They help him home. He offers them a remarkable chance: help him plant a field of peanuts, and he will pay them a white man’s wages. Prentiss understands this mean the money for traveling North and a new life for him and his brother Landry, brutally deformed from when he was the scapegoat for his fellow slaves. George’s wife accepts the boys as well, forging a special bond with the silent Landry.

Unexpectedly, son Caleb comes home. He had gone to war to follow his boyhood friend and love, the son of a wealthy and powerful man. They have a secret life which is observed by Landry, resulting in tragedy. And from here, the story spirals and pulls the reader along.

The book drew me in and kept my interest. As it unfolded, I understood George’s motivation. I also felt the story was a wish fulfillment fantasy, with poetic justice dealt. And, I find myself thinking that George’s wife had the best parts and was the real hero of the story. George suffered horribly for his beliefs and acts. But it was Isabell who had the strength to fulfill his legacy. She allows herself to turn to women in town for insight and support in some of the most satisfyingly scenes.

There is violence in the book–no surprise because of its subject matter and time setting. But it is the acceptance and love and bravery that remains in my mind. The courage of people who follow their better angels.

Although Prentiss is a strong and brave character, I wish he had been given a bigger presence in the novel. Landry is short-lived in the story, his character almost more a symbol than real, but who is never forgotten by Isabell.

I can understand why this novel has garnered so much attention. It is an engrossing, emotional read. The white people are inspirational characters who risk everything for their convictions. We can trace the depicted racism to today’s headlines. I expect great things to come from this young author.

I received a free egalley from the publisher thought NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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This was a stellar read. It was a rich book, yet quiet and so meaningful. At the heart of the story are the people, just after the Civil War, in the complicated Reconstruction era, trying to sort out life. 

Two freedmen, with a heartbreaking past, try to figure out their way in the world. A white man chooses kindness. Others choose cruelty. Two soldiers have a complex story. It’s a difficult book to talk about without spoilers, but is so very worthy. I highly recommend this thought provoking book. 

This book was supplied to me by NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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Despite owning land in the south, George Walker is not a slave holder and welcomes two emancipated brothers to live on his land and work for him, for fair and equal wages. A friendship, though somewhat hampered by society, forms between the brothers and the Walker family. Then tragedy strikes. I know it was too much to ask for this story to happen without tragedy. It would be unrealistic. But the various events are all handled with a delicate reverence for the characters, each one treasured for their own individuality. And, while I am not a fan of the tying up of endings in neat little packages, I needed to know what happened with the characters after the main course of events had passed. This is how personal the characters feel to the reader. It is easy to see why this book garnered so many accolades. I am thoroughly impressed with Mr. Harris's debut and hope to read a lot more from him in the future.
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Thank you to Little Brown and Net Galley for the eARC of The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris.

I can't believe this is a debut novel.  This historical fiction book is a must read!  

The Civil War has ended and slavery has also ended.  But freedom doesn't look the same for Prentiss and Landry as it does for white folk.  Prentiss and Landry are brothers and after the Civil War they meet George Walker.  They start working for him on his land.  George and his wife Isabelle are devastated that their son Caleb has not returned from the war.  But, he soon does.   

One night, Landry sees Caleb in an act with another young man.  Landry will pay for this in the most horrific way and soon Prentiss finds himself in jail.  George, Caleb, and Prentiss start traveling North in hopes to find a place where Prentiss and Caleb are safe.  But there will be trouble along the way.  

This is a tough read but it's one that you should read!  There are moments of complete horror and utter shame at the way slaves were treated.   But in the end, there is hope!
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I reviewed this for NPR. Here’s the opening:
Evocative and accessible, Nathan Harris's debut novel The Sweetness of Water is a historical page-turner about social friction so powerful it ignites a whole town.

Old Ox, Georgia, is a community attempting to right itself after tectonic upheaval. Focusing on the period just after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox and the enforcement of emancipation in the South through the presence of Union troops, Harris asks a question Americans have yet to figure out: How does a community make peace in the wake of civil war? I'm not sure the novel comes close to finding an answer. But posing the question and following through the work undertaken felt incredibly worthwhile nonetheless.

Between Oprah's Book Club, President Obama's summer reading list and the Booker Prize long list, The Sweetness of Water is having a moment that goes beyond topicality. There are several reasons for that: First, its question feels urgent and familiar, because politics now feels like war. Between the January insurrection, the threat of Texas secession, and the daily rhetoric of combat and revolution, the battles are ongoing, not just along party but also regional lines. Second, the peacemaking project attempted on these pages is still clearly unfinished. Like a fictional companion to Clint's Smith's history How the Word is Passed, The Sweetness of Water joins the national conversation on race and reckoning with history already in progress. In struggles over flags, monuments, textbooks, and university tenure, we're still fighting over how to frame this event in public memory, so those old wounds feel particularly fresh. Nathan Harris makes those extraordinary, still contested times comprehensible through an immersive, incredibly humane storytelling about the lives of ordinary people.
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The Civil War is over. The blacks have been freed. What is freedom though when they have no money, no place to live, no place to work unless they decide to stay and work for their former owners. The war is over, just words, words that don't change beliefs, prejudices nor the will tongive up what they had previously. Those confederates who have made is through alive are returning to this Georgia town and Union soldiers are there to try to keep things stable. Some of the blacks, like brothers Prentiss and Landry take to the woods, trying to trap food. This is where they meet George, a white man who hires them to farm his land. This is the situation, a situation that ignites a simmering town, and one with devastating consequences. A forbidden love between two confederate soldiers, a murder and a young man who lacked courage will find it in a meaningful way. It is a woman though who will find her strength and bring hope when least expected.

A stunning debut novel. Heartbreaking and heartfelt. Realistically illuminating the tensions at wars end, during reconstruction and with many wanting only to hold on to past beliefs. Memorable characters that I came to embrace. I felt so many emotions while I read this and drawing parallels to today, though circumstances are different, have we really come as far as we think we have? Possibly not, even all these years later.

ARC from Netgalley.
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Historical fiction from an angle I haven’t read before: that of a soldier returning from battle and the plight of freed slaves. It took me awhile to read this novel since i didn’t want to rush the material. The writing of Nathan Harris was superb.
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The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris was a powerful and impressive debut novel. Harris masterfully wrote about the days that immediately followed the surrender of Lee and the passage of The Emancipation Proclamation that came with the end of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves. This gripping story took place in the small town of Old Ox, Georgia. The characters were multi-layered and well developed with uniquely distinguished characteristics. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I finished reading this book. Nathan Harris’s writing was both strong and beautiful. His way with words was quite impressive for a debut novel. The Sweetness of Water was historically accurate and very well researched. It was a little slow in the beginning but gained momentum and had my complete interest and attention as the story progressed. 

Brothers Prentiss and Landry were experiencing their first taste of freedom when they came across George Walker in the forest of Old Ox. George had just received the devastating news that his only son, Caleb, had died fighting  as a soldier in the Civil War. His grief was immense and he was avoiding the inevitable task of having to convey this sad news to his wife, Isabelle. George Walker and his wife Isabelle owned a farm nearby and after some thought, George offered Prentiss and Landry paid employment on his farm. It was a good arrangement for all. George hoped that the hard work he and his two new workers would perform would mask his loss and sadness and the brothers aspired to save enough money to travel north and hopefully find their mother who had previously been sold to another master. George’s attitude and treatment towards Prentiss and Landry was challenged by the townspeople of Old Ox who could not let go of their hatred and racism toward freed slaves. To George and Isabelle’s relief, Caleb had been taken as a prisoner of war and soon returned home. Caleb reluctantly worked side by side with his father, Prentiss and Landry on converting their farm to a peanut farm. Caleb hated farming though. This was not the life he envisioned for himself. Caleb carried a deep secret within himself. When his secret was accidentally discovered, it culminated in a tragic and senseless murder that changed the lives of so many.

The Sweetness of Water by Natan Harris was about family, relationships, hatred, racism, entitlement, love in many forms, weakness, strength and above all hope. The social issues presented in The Sweetness of Water were reminiscent of issues we are still addressing currently. Time has not improved the attitudes towards these social issues. White Supremacy, bigotry and racism still exist. Our criminal justice system remains flawed. As George Walker’s character in The Sweetness of Water challenged the hatred, bigotry and racism of the people of Old Ox, he was met with opposition and violence. George Walker’s humane ways toward freed slaves, Prentiss and Landry, were were not embraced by most of his friends and acquaintances. His actions were definitely in the minority and he was scrutinized and ostracized for these acts. The Sweetness of Water was quite thought provoking and emotional. I look forward to reading more books by Nathan Harris. He is an author to watch and anticipate.

Thank you to Little Brown/ Blackstone Publishing for allowing me to read this debut historical fiction advanced reader’s copy of The Sweetness of Water through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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This is a gripping tale of the varied hardships of life in and around the time of the Civil War. No one is untouched by the sadness, hurt, atrocities, and uncertainties of the time. It is such a well written book that pulled me in from the start while at the same time being difficult to read because of the realities of the time on many different fronts. I would highly recommend this book, though not for the faint of heart. Thank you to NetGalley for the advance read copy.
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This is such a wonderful story.  It is beautifully written and almost lyrical in the way the sentences progress.  It's about a time in our history that many of us know little about.  We all know that Lincoln freed the slaves.  But what happened to the former slaves and the people that owned them and suddenly didn't, well that wasn't something we learned about in school.
So now we find two ex-slaves, brothers actually, who are now living in the woods.  They are on the land of a southern couple whose son is a confederate soldier.  They allow the brothers to live in the barn and help work on the family farm.  But what enfolds after is what this book is about.  Kindness, acceptance, racism, and love are all subjects explored in the narrative.  Throw in a good measure of heartbreak and then hope and you have some idea of just how emotional this book is going to be.  And it's well worth the investment of your time to read it!
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Nathan Harris has written an amazing debut novel. The Sweetness of Water is set in a fictional Georgia town during the Reconstruction period just after the Civil War ended, with the main characters being a land-owning family and two brothers, who have recently been freed from the neighboring plantation. 

George and Isabelle Walker are devastated by news that their son, Caleb, has apparently died in battle near the end of the War. George is a transplanted northener whose life plan seems to be to sell off his land a little at a time to finance a quiet life for him and his wife Isabelle, a woman who has developed the best possible attitude toward marriage and life on the “farm.” Prentiss and Landry, the two brothers who meet George on one of his rambling walks and end up living in the Walkers’ barn, go from slavery to being paid actual wages for the work George assigns them. Things go semi-smoothly for awhile until Caleb shows up, very much alive despite being disgraced for his behavior in battle. George decides to convert his land to a peanut farm with the help of his son and the brothers -- which doesn’t sit well with either local plantation owners or returned Confederate soldiers, all of whom are classic bad guys both in their attitudes and behaviors. 

Caleb has a secret illicit affair to add to his shame as a coward. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that there are several potentials for disaster, and essentially all of them happen in ways that require the characters to choose whether or not to do the right thing.  All the characters are incredibly developed as they deal with various themes and situations including white supremacy, racism, misogny, homosexuality, and the meaning of love, marriage, and family. 

Despite (or possibly due to) its selection as an Oprah Book Club pick, I wasn’t wild at the prospect of reading this when I received a copy from Little, Brown and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. But its place on the longlist for the Booker Prize and its recommendation on Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List prompted me to pick it up. 

It is so good! Better even than I expected (I have always found something to treasure among Obama’s recommendations). The story moves along, with tension building relentlessly. It was so gripping I kept having to put it down...and then I didn’t want it to end. So many of the characters had to find courage despite the repercussions they KNEW would follow. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Five gigantic stars. Great for book clubs, fans of historical fiction, or really anyone who is looking for a good book to read!!!
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𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐒𝗪𝐄𝐄𝐓𝐍𝐄𝐒𝐒 𝐎𝐅 𝗪𝐀𝐓𝐄𝐑 by Nathan Harris is a debut that’s going to leave you eager for whatever this author does next. The writing is THAT good. With seeming ease, Harris weaves together the stories of five very different characters. Closest to my heart were brothers Prentiss and Landry, slaves just freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. They’re lost in their new found “freedom” and end up camping in the woods on land owned by George Walker. Walker is a quirky guy. Thanks to his father, he’s never really had to work and has spent most of his life living in his head. Tragedy propels him to want to do more and discovering the brothers on his land turns out to be a fortuitous development.⁣
Counterpoint to George is his wife, Isabelle, a woman with an inner strength that grows and grows as the story goes on. Adding depth to the story are lifelong friends, returned from the war to a world that really has no place for them. With these characters, Harris gives his readers a small glimpse into the lives of two men facing a freedom that wasn’t really free, and three others who were marginalized in other ways. He gives us sorrow, hatred, growth and hope. My only critique of this book would be that I thought the last quarter felt a little bit like a long epilogue. It was still very good, but for me the climax had already happened. I want to thank for pointing me to 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘸𝘦𝘦𝘵𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘞𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳. I’m so glad I read it! (It's on the Booker Prize long list, so there's that as a bonus.)
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rare five-star review for me.

Well-developed, complex characters who act in unpredictable, yet totally believable ways, reveal the chaos of the very end of the Civil War in the South, and the first, tenuous moments of trying to live a good life afterward. Each of the five principal characters is so genuine, drawing me in completely to their point of view.

The author has deftly woven a non-stop narrative with both poetic metaphors and today's contemporary sensibility. Heartbreaking and often violent, the story still isn't like any other historical race-centered narrative I've read. Each time I wound myself up for something terrible to happen, I followed the characters down their different path. And yet, there is inevitability, too.

A book well worthy of discussion, and perhaps a re-read--my criteria for 5 stars.
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Set in the fictional village of Old Ox in Georgia, this story begins after the surrender of the Confederacy and the Reconstruction era that followed. Families whose sons had not yet returned from the war, and were left waiting for word, but already grieving the loss. Among them are the Walkers, George and Isabelle who live just outside of Old Ox on their family homestead. Their grief is palpable, as their son has not returned, leaving them to believe the worst, and their silence with each other enshrouds them.

When George Walker encounters Prentiss and Landry, two recently freed brothers - one the same age as his son Caleb - who have managed to end up on his property in their search for their mother. Rather than tell them to get off his property, he asks if they have any water to share, and if they will help him get back to his home, as his hip is acting up. He tells them he will make it worth their while, along with another offer - if they will help him with his crop, he will pay them so they will have the money to continue their search. With few options for income, they accept.

’They walked as one through the trees with Landry trailing them. Though George needed the stars for guidance, it was all he could do to keep his sight straight ahead to stop himself from falling over, from giving in to the pain. He placed his head in the nook where Prentiss’s chest met his shoulder and allowed the man to balance him.’

’For the slightest moment, before going inside, he peered back at the forest, silent and void of life in the darkness. Like there was nothing there at all.’

When Caleb does return home, it’s clear that he’s survived some brutal moments, but he doesn’t share his story with his parents, more out of shame that it would reveal too much about him. He was a deserter. Not only was he a traitor and a runaway from his duties as a soldier, he deserted the one he loved. His best friend and lover, secretly of course, August. A man who has also returned, and is about to be married. But that doesn’t discourage Caleb from wanting to continue their secret affair.

Their lives, along with everyone else’s, have changed. As the days pass, George’s health declines, Isabelle seems to find a way to navigate this new life with a believable mix of feelings, but also a resolve to find a way to navigate this new life. Instead of bitterness or despair, there is a sense of grace that goes beyond mere acceptance or this new life, there is a sense of welcoming the change.
A debut novel of unexpected relationships and acceptance, with a focus on the personal feelings of these people, and navigating uncertain times.

Published: 15 Jun 2021

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company

#TheSweetnessofWater #NetGalley
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Wow! What a beautifully written debut novel! I fell in love with the characters as they are so authentic and so quirky! I finished reading the book and wanted to go back and read it all over again! Absolutely love it!
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Book Review: The Sweetness of Water
Author: Nathan Harris
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: June 15, 2021
Review Date: July 25, 2021

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb:

In the spirit of The Known World and The Underground Railroad, “a miraculous debut” (Washington Post)  and “a towering achievement of imagination” (CBS This Morning)about the unlikely bond between two freedmen who are brothers and the Georgia farmer whose alliance will alter their lives, and his, forever—from “a storyteller with bountiful insight and assurance” (Kirkus)

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
A July Indie Next Pick

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.”
Oh my goodness! What a treasure of a book. I finished it late last night, and I am just blown away. This is a work of perfection. Deep, deep characters, including the setting of time and place, Georgia in Reconstruction. Incredible plot. A very, very original story, which is rare these days. The language and imagery is stunning. I think this book could win a Pulitzer for 2021, or the National Book Award. This is really a MUST READ book those of you who love and appreciate finely crafted literary fiction. I just can’t find the words to really explain how stunned I am. And so very satisfied. 

Mr. Harris has captured the subtleties of the time and place. The cruelty. The ties to the land. The bonds between the characters. I give this 10 stars out of 5! Highly, highly recommended! Please, please, please read this book. Savor it. Let yourself be moved. 

Thank you Little, Brown for giving me access to this gem of a book, and best of luck to Mr. Harris with his continued literary career. I cannot wait to see what he creates next. 

This review will be posted on NetGalley and Goodreads.

#netgalley #thesweetnessofwater #nathanharris #littlebrown #reconstuction
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Great stories that are not common when reading Civil War era novels. Well written and historically accurate to the time period.
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