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Nathan Harris’ elegant writing brings to life the broken souls of the Reconstruction Era and the strength it takes to confront a world built on prejudice. George Walker and his wife Isabelle—grieving from the loss of their only son—discover two freedmen, brothers Prentiss and Landry, on their land. In an attempt to stanch their pain, an unlikely friendship is formed as the Walkers offer Prentiss and Landry work and a possible path to freedom up North. But few things are as easy as they seem and old hatreds are slow to die as everyone in this small town soon learn. The Sweetness of Water is a remarkable retelling of our history, one which includes all of the characters that have been ignored in our narratives for too long. From the first page to the last, this powerful story reminds us of the humanity behind our failure and rebirth.— From Elaine & Luisa's Picks: Summer 2021
July 2021 Indie Next List
“I was holding my breath through this beautifully woven story of love, family, belonging, and loss set in the South at the end of the Civil War. There's so much heart and soul in this book. It is destined for awards.”
— Jamie Southern, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER / AN OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK
ONE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021
Winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
Winner of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction
Shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Longlisted for the 2022 Carnegie Medal for Excellence
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
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 Best Book of the Year: Oprah Daily, NPR, Washington Post, Time, Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Chicago Public Library, BookBrowse, and the Oregonian
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.
About the Author
Nathan Harris holds an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas. The Sweetness of Water, his first novel, was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Harris was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree in 2021. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
“What a gifted, assured writer Nathan Harris is. He does what all novelists are supposed to do—give birth to vivid characters, people worth caring about, and then get out of their way. The result is better than any debut novel has a right to be. With The Sweetness of Water, Harris has, in a sense, unwritten Gone With the Wind, detonating its phony romanticism, its unearned sympathies, its wretched racism.”—Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Bridge of Sighs
“The Sweetness of Water captured my imagination with the vivid characters the author drew and the poignant yet explosive narrative he created.”—Smithsonian
“To open Nathan Harris’s first novel is to enter a trance. I can’t think of any other book out there quite like it. The richness of his language and the exquisite details of the lives he creates produce a kind of waking dream, equally lyrical and threatening.”—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of the national bestseller The House of Broken Angels
"The Sweetness of Water is gorgeous and deeply affecting in the tradition of James McBride and Colson Whitehead, but the book's unforgettable gift is Nathan Harris's unique voice and breathtaking vision. I cannot recall such an assured, accomplished, or extraordinarily imagined debut. Trust me, reader: Harris is a novelist of the highest order, a writer with impossibly rare talents and still rarer heart."—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of the international bestseller Remember Me Like This
“In the right hands, historical fiction can often capture the truth of our own times more successfully than many contemporary attempts. . . . Harris uses two closely braided stories to explore the violence and the compassion lurking in every human heart. . . . Readers will often forget that this is a debut novel; one of Harris’s greatest gifts, aside from those beautifully wrought sentences, is his empathy, his ability to slip inside the skins of these men and women.”—Financial Times