Maria's Pick: "The Sweetness of Water" by Nathan Harris
In this debut novel, Nathan Harris weaves a story that explores the repercussions of the evils of slavery, racism, and greed. The Civil War is winding down and two African American brothers, Prentiss and Landry, have recently been set free from the only life they have ever known, as slaves on a plantation in Georgia. They walk away with nothing but injuries, both internal and external, sustained by repeated beatings and a determination to go north in order to make a living and find their mother, who was sold years before.
The brothers are discovered in the woods by a sympathetic neighboring landowner, George Walker. Walker is reeling from the recent news that his son was killed in the war.
Within days, Walker forms a plan to ask the brothers to stay on at his homestead. In exchange for their help in clearing his land and planting a peanut crop, he offers them board and a fair daily wage. The brothers reluctantly agree, hoping to save up money to head north once the crop is in.
Meanwhile, another story is unfolding in their small community of Old Ox. Two confederate soldiers, friends since childhood, are now home and continue to meet secretly in the woods in a forbidden romance. When they are inadvertently discovered, disaster ensues and reverberates in ways that cannot be stopped by even the best of intentions.
This beautifully written historical novel gives us a glimpse into the chaos and cruelty endured at the end of the Civil War, a war that was far from over for freedmen, who were left to struggle on their own in ways that many of them would not survive. .
Book reviewed by Maria Smith, Neighborhood Reads Bookseller