Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Harper (August 26, 2014)
Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave—characters who yearn for redemption amid a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.
Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes of her small coastal village and listens to her father’s stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. Since the loss of his wife, Helen, John has remained land-bound for their daughter, but when Tab contracts yellow fever, he turns to the sea once more. Desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.
Years before, Helen herself was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Left largely on their own, Helen and Moll develop a close but uneasy companionship. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, the pirate turned Continental soldier, she flouts convention and her father’s wishes by falling in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery.
In this elegant, evocative, and haunting debut, Katy Simpson Smith captures the singular love between parent and child, the devastation of love lost, and the desperate paths we travel in the name of renewal.
The Story of Land and Sea follows two generations of fathers and daughters and a mother and son. Asa is a small turpentine plantation owner who is raising a young daughter, Helen, by himself. Helen is strong willed, independent and devout. For Helen's tenth birthday, she is given a young slave, Moll, Helen and Moll have a push and pull relationship as they grow up together. Moll is married off young and in short succession gives birth to a son, Davy, who is the only true love of her life. Helen believes she won't find love, but falls for a former pirate and soldier, John. John and Helen steal away on a ship where she becomes pregnant. Years later, John is a single father to a rambunctious ten year old girl, Tabitha. When Tabitha becomes ill, John believes the sea will be her salvation.
A moving story of love, loss and moving on set in North Carolina around the time of the American Revolution. Written with beautiful prose, the effects of death and loss for parents is explored. This story is not told chronologically, but that doesn't matter. The story begins with John and Tabitha, the focus is on their relationship. At first, I thought that I was having a really hard time finding Tabitha's character and relating to her, but then I realized that is not the focus. I did find it easy to feel John's overwhelming love and devotion to his daughter and the memory of his wife and that he was willing to do whatever necessary for her. The story then moves to Helen as a young child where her relationship with her father is explored. Helen and her father's relationship changes as Helen grows and finds her own relationship with John. This was one of the best parts of the book for me, seeing their relationship grow. The third part of the book focuses on Asa and John's relationship after they both have dealt with significant loss. The tension of their dislike for one another is great but their similarities in grief and love for Helen and Tabitha binds them. Moll and her son Davy are also an important focus, Moll faces a different kind of loss, although significant in her life. Although, the loss of Davy is definitely one that is bittersweet.
This is not a happy read, although it is an emotional story of struggle, loneliness and love.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as an adjunct professor at Tulane University and is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. She lives in New Orleans.
Connect with Katy Simpson Smith through her website.
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