Meet the author: Nathan Harris
September 25th 2021
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris is a beautifully conceived and thoughtful story about the ties between strangers – and how it’s sometimes easier to connect with people we don’t know than open up to those we do.
It’s simply astonishing that this is a debut novel, given that it’s written with such a deft touch and such confidence. The characters are richly developed, complete with all their imperfections and their lives, loves and hopes stay with the reader long after the last page. Sometimes you come across a book which you remember forever – this is most definitely one of them.
Dear LoveMyRead Readers,
I couldn’t be happier that THE SWEETNESS OF WATER was chosen by the club this month! The origins of this book stem from some research I did a few years ago into the lives of freed slaves following the American Civil War; I realized that I had never read a novel that invoked the realities of these individuals in the days immediately following the war’s end.
If all of you reading this could just imagine, having spent your entire life in bondage, your every movement controlled by others, and suddenly waking up to the earthshaking revelation that the government has given you a new identity, one of being free – while you’re still occupying the same traumatized body, living with the same tortured history of your past, that has defined your entire existence. And now you must navigate the next chapter of your life with no guidance, no signposts to tell you where you might go next, or what freedom even means in this precarious, and even dangerous, new circumstance. Those are the very thoughts fascinated me! So I set out to write with these ideas in mind, and a novel soon was born.
I can’t say it was an easy journey, as even attempting to occupy the psyches of some of my characters was incredibly harrowing at points. But I couldn’t be happier with what has come from this experience. It is a book filled with love, grief, heartache, and finally an underlying sense of hope — a belief that people can overcome no matter what trials are put before them; that fractured societies might find some way to mend if only citizens begin to see one another with a greater sense of humanity.
With that said, I can’t wait for all of you to meet this cast of characters, and visit, by way of imagination, the very lively town of Old Ox.
I can only hope the story resonates with you all. Please enjoy the read.
What type of person do you hope reads your book?
Anyone hoping to learn more about an incredibly interesting period in American history. Beyond that, anyone who wants that sort of reading experience we had as children that made us voracious readers in the first place – sweeping epics that make us, laugh, cry, and feel moved. Those are the sort of books I love and the sort I set out to write.
What's the most unexpected thing you learnt while writing the book?
The incredibly varied idea of what “Freedom” really meant in America after slavery depending on the various regions one was in. This was not a unified experience. Some freed blacks thrived. Many did not.
What's your favourite first line in literature?
I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
Is there one book you wished you'd written? Why?
I think Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is generally perfect. Had I written that I’d be happy to hang up my hat and spend the rest of my days doing nothing.
What are you working on next?
Wouldn’t you like to know!
An entire day had passed since George Walker had spoken to his wife. He’d taken to the woods that very morning, tracking an animal that had eluded him since his childhood, and now night was falling. He’d seen the animal in his mind’s eye upon waking, and tracking it carried a sense of adventure so satisfying that all day he could not bear the thought of returning home. This had been the first of such excursions all spring, and tramping through splintered pine needles and mushrooms swollen from the morning rain, he’d come upon a patch of land he’d yet to explore in full. The animal, he was sure, was always one step away from falling into his line of sight.
The land his father had passed down to him was over two hundred acres. The large red oaks and walnut trees that surrounded his home could dim the sun into nothing more than a soft flicker in the sky passing between their branches. Many of them as familiar as signposts, long studied over many years from childhood on.
The brush George encountered was waist-high and coated with burrs that clung to his trousers. He’d developed a hitch over the last few years, had pinned it on a misplaced step as he descended from his cabin to the forest floor, but he knew this was a lie: it had appeared with the persistence and steady progress of old age itself— as natural as the lines on his face, the white in his hair. It slowed him, and by the time he caught his breath and took a moment to assess his surroundings, he realized that silence had overtaken the woods. The sun, above his head only moments before, had faded into nothingness over the far corner of the valley, nearly out of sight.
He had no idea where he was. His hip ached as though something was nestled there and attempting to escape. Soon the need for water overtook him, the roof of his mouth so dry his tongue clung to it. He took a seat on a small log and waited for total darkness. If the clouds gave out, the stars would appear, which was all he needed to map his way back home. His worst miscalculation would still guide him to Old Ox, and although he loathed the idea of seeing any of those sorry desperate sorts in town, at the very least one of them would offer a horse to return him to his cabin.
For a moment the thought of his wife came to him. By now he was typically arriving home, the candle Isabelle had left on the windowsill guiding his final few steps. She would often forgive these absences of his only after a long, silent hug, the black ink from the trees leaving faint handprints on her dress, irritating her all over again.
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Vicki & The LoveMyRead Team x