Join me as we delve into the heart of Georgia during the tumultuous last days of the Civil War and the complex relationships that form in its wake.
In Nathan Harris’s debut novel, “The Sweetness of Water,” we follow the stories of two freed brothers, Prentiss and Landry, seeking refuge on the homestead of a grief-stricken Georgia farmer just accompanied by his better half.
As their lives become intertwined, the story ends up exploring themes of love, loss, and the resilience of the human spirit amidst the face of harrowing circumstances.
And to understand their plight in this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for The Sweetness of Water, and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to discover the beauty and terror of a world that is both infuriating and striking at the same time.
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The Sweetness of Water Book Club Questions
- The forest serves as a place of refuge for Landry and a source of both fear and fascination for George. For him, it represents a space where he can be alone with his thoughts and emotions and where he can connect with his identity as a free man. Now for George, the forest is a place of trauma and unresolved emotions, as well as a symbol of his failure to conquer the wildness within himself.
Discuss how Nathan Harris uses the metaphorical representation of the natural world serving as a sharp contrast between the two characters in the novel.
- The book depicts the aftermath of the Civil War as a time of great upheaval and uncertainty for both black and white residents of the South. Newly freed slaves face numerous challenges, including finding work, securing housing, and navigating a society that remains deeply divided deep along racial lines.
Would you like to share any valuable insights as to how difficult a time it was for Black people during this war? Also, do you think Nathan Harris has done enough justice by showcasing the atrocities that Black people faced during such times?
- The novel portrays the deep-seated racism and bigotry of many of the white characters in the town, who are quick to blame the Walkers for Landry’s murder and to dismiss August’s involvement in the crime because of his status and privilege.
Discuss the concept of prejudice based on this event.
- The novel shows how racism and bigotry continue to thrive even after the end of slavery, with many white residents of Old Ox harboring deep-seated prejudices against black people. At the same time, it also explores the complicated feelings of guilt and shame that some white residents experience in the aftermath of the war, as they struggle to come to terms with their own complicity in the system of slavery.
Do you agree? If yes, discuss.
- Throughout the novel, Landry grapples with his newfound freedom, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer someone’s property.
Referring to this particular term “freedom”, what does it mean to you? Also, put yourself in the place of Landry and, for one moment, contemplate the exact moment when you are freed. How would you feel?
- Caleb and August’s relationship is depicted as a taboo and dangerous secret, with the threat of violence and ostracism looming over them at all times. August’s violence towards Landry can be seen as a manifestation of his fear that their relationship will be exposed, and the town’s refusal to believe that August could have committed such a crime can be seen as a reflection of their own prejudices and biased thinking practices.
What’s your take on the way the book has tackled these issues of sexuality and sexual identity in the context of a deeply homophobic and heteronormative society?
- The relationship between George Walker and Prentiss and Landry is one of mutual respect and gratitude, as George offers them a job and a place to live. However, their relationship is also fraught with tension as George struggles to reconcile his own guilt and complicity in the institution of slavery. At the same time, Isabelle also struggles with her own guilt and shame for the family’s history of owning slaves.
What’s your take on the way the novel has depicted the complexities of relationships between Black and white characters? Is it eerily accurate or vastly inappropriate?
- George’s decision to develop a peanut farm is motivated by a desire to find a new sense of purpose and direction in his life. He has grown tired of the trivial hobbies he has pursued in the past, and he recognizes that selling parcels of his land to survive is not a sustainable solution. He believes that developing the patch of forest into a peanut farm is an opportunity to create something that will last and provide a meaningful contribution to his community.
Do you think this farm was actually a way to bond with them? Discuss the character of George based on his contribution as a friend to Prentiss and Landry in this novel.
- Which among these themes did you resonate with the most in the novel?
– the theme of Forgiveness where Isabelle allows recently freed slaves to work the farm and harvest crops as a way to honor George’s wish to make the farm meaningful.
– the theme of Justice where Prentiss, who takes matters into his own hands by attacking the Sheriff, is also denied justice
– the theme of Accountability where despite the evidence of August’s involvement in Landry’s death, the town is quick to exonerate him because of his status and privilege.
- Isabelle’s interactions with the two brothers are characterized by warmth, concern, and empathy, rather than the coldness and distance that are often associated with white Southern women of this era. She recognizes their humanity and sees them as individuals who deserve respect and dignity, rather than as objects to be feared or controlled.
For me, she was the most loved character in the novel? Do you agree? If yes, which trait of hers did you like the most? If no, whom did you like more and why?
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