The Sweetness of Water (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - book cover
Literature & Fiction
  • Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition
  • Published : 15 Jun 2021
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 0316362484
  • ISBN-13 : 9780316362481
  • Language : English

The Sweetness of Water (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel


Winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
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, Smithsonian, Boston Globe, 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.

Editorial Reviews

"Harris's debut novel is remarkable; that he's only 29 is miraculous. His prose is burnished with an antique patina that evokes the mid-19th century. And he explores this liminal moment in our history with extraordinary sensitivity to the range of responses from Black and White Americans contending with a revolutionary ideal of personhood... All of this is drawn with gorgeous fidelity to these cautious characters, struggling to remake the world, or at least this little patch of it... Harris stacks the timbers of this plot deliberately, and the moment a spark alights, the whole structure begins to burn hot... What's most impressive about Harris's novel is how he attends to the lives of these peculiar people while capturing the tectonic tensions at play in the American South."―Ron Charles, Washington Post

"Beautiful... An instant classic... This book is profound."―Jenna Bush Hager, Wall Street Journal

"This debut novel astonished us as much for its wise, lyrical voice as for its dense realization of a fictional small town in the American South at a rarely written-about moment, the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. We were incredibly impressed by the way it probes themes of trans-historical importance-about race, sexuality, violence, and grief-through meticulously-drawn characters and a patient examination of their relationships."―Booker Prize committee

"As I read this masterful novel I kept thinking-this young 29-year-old is a first-time author, so how did he do this?... As the best writers can do, Nathan takes us back in time, and helps us to feel we are right there with Prentiss and Landry as they get their first taste of freedom. I rooted for them, and feared for them too."―Oprah Winfrey, Oprah Daily

"A historical page-turner about social friction so powerful it ignites a whole town . . . The novel's questions feel urgent . . . Like a fictional companion to Clint Smith's history, How the Word Is Passed, The Sweetness of Water joins the national conversation on race and reckoning with history . . . Nathan Harris makes those extraordinary, still-contested times comprehensible through immersive, incredibly humane storytelling about the lives of ordinary people . . . Hope is the driving force in The Sweetness of Water . . . Harris spins an increasingly complex tale about the postwar South, and he tells it in a humane and intimate way, by exploring interpersonal relationships of all kinds in and around this rural Georgia town. . . And even though the story focuses on hope and unexpected kinship, it doesn't diminish the horrors of slavery or the struggle in its wake. The events of the brothers' former lives are never far from memory-whipping, beating, disfiguring physica...

Readers Top Reviews

bdocRP FRAZERChirpyB
Extremely well written. Parts were sad but there was hope. Different lives come together to tell a powerful story! One of the best books of 2021.
Five stars for this author's telling of what it could have been like for slaves as they experienced the first hours, days...and months of life in freedom. The fears, uncertainty...mistrust. Putting their feet, for the first time in their lives, onto soil outside of the confines of a few acres of land where they were forced to endure every moment of their days where their actions were controlled. Never knowing when they might be subjected to another horror of a beating, or seeing a family member sold...never to be seen again. Harris does a masterful job of intertwining the lives of these brothers with the family that offers them their first humane treatment. A family that dares to challenge the hatred and bigotry of a town.
Kindle Happy Lady S
Although the subject matter is compelling, The Sweetness of Water is not a great book. Hopefully, Nathan Harris will not be too satisfied with this debut novel because he has plenty to learn. To be sure, this is not a bad book. The two African American characters are quite believable. The setting is well drawn and the book’s plot is interesting. However, the writing style is much too flowery for this gritty novel. I swear that the author, when he is at a loss for the right word, opens his dictionary to the most obscure, most archaic word and chooses it to finish his sentence. Using words like “screed” and “suppurate” neither fit his style nor the time of which he writes. Many of the characters are stereotypes: Morton could be Simon Lagree. Many of them like George and Isabelle just seem a bit off, baffling in their behavior. Often the narrator rambles, mistaking length for substance. I opened this book with much anticipation. Yes, I was disappointed. Although unfair, it was difficult not to compare Nathan Harris with established black writers like Colson Whitehead. Harris has a long way to go; I pray he gets there.
Jessica Peters
This book was amazing. I read this book ravenously. I haven't read a 300 page book from start to finish in a day since high school. It is beautifully written with emotion and care. If you want civil war gay romance, murder, betrayal, and strong female characters, this book is for you. Absolutely wonderful.
Jacob Harris
I couldn’t put this book down. This is an instant classic. Highly recommend

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