The Concord Downtown staff selected The Sweetness of Water, which is also the August selection for Oprah’s Book Club. In addition, The Sweetness of Water has made it onto President Obama’s summer reading list and the Booker Prize long list.
Old Ox, Georgia, is a community attempting to right itself after the tectonic upheaval of the Civil War. 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 the Union troops. Harris explores the limits of “freedom” in the era that ushered in Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and spotlights some of the parallels with our current times. The novel also shows how a fellow human’s single act of kindness or cruelty can reverberate for generations to come.
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In the waning days of the Civil war, brothers Prentiss and Landry–free 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 is 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.