The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

August 29th, 2014 Kimberly Review 52 Comments

29th Aug
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
The Story of Land and Sea
by Katy Simpson Smith
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
Rating: One StarOne StarOne Star

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 amidst 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 lonely paths we travel in the name of renewal

The Story of Land and Sea by Kathy Simpson Smith takes place along the coastal shore of North Carolina towards the end of the American Revolutionary war and spans from 1771-1794. It takes us into the lives of three generations of families from landowner to slave. It is a glimpse into their hardship and love.

Caffeinated Aspects
• The writing was told in three separate narratives, and while I had some issues, one has to recognize how Smith’s words create music. There are passages, phrases and descriptions that bring forth  colorful images to the reader.

• The first part shares the story of ten-year-old Tabitha and her father John. Helen her mother died in childbirth and Tabitha longs to learn about her through her father and grandfather Asa. This was perhaps my favorite of the three stories and took place in 1793. Tabitha was whimsical, and I loved how she longed for stories about the past.

• For the second story we move back in time and learn Helen’s story. We witness her religious upbringing, and interaction with slaves. Helen was spoiled, and the exact opposite of what Tabitha imagined. Here we meet her house slave Moll and are given her story. She is forced into a loveless marriage and I felt for Moll.

• The third section takes us back to 1793 as John and Asa deal with their loss. Asa is a God fearing man of faith and John has no faith, yet longs for peace.

• The story does not have a lot of movement, and yet it is a powerful story about love, loss, acceptance, and moving forward. Religion is a factor here, and it is soul searching and realistic while abstaining from preaching.

• I loved how Smith introduced us to Tabitha first, and gave us her thoughts on her mother. It reflects on how we see and remember those we love. Meeting Helen in the second part made the telling and knowing of her far more entertaining.

Decaffeinated Aspects
• The story is sad and steeped in religious beliefs. The story does not meander,nor does ebb and flow rather it just is.

• I enjoyed the first two narratives but by the third, was a tad depressing, and it was not a strong finish for me. In retrospect, I think if I had paused between sections it might have worked better.

Beautifully written The Story of Land and Sea weaves an intriguing tale, of love and loss that the reader cannot help, but reflect upon.

About Katy Simpson Smith

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.

Photo of kimbacaffeinate
About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw and Howler. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Find @kimbacaffeinate on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Stay Caffeinated!

Never miss a post by adding Caffeinated to your Inbox

Your email is not shared and you can unsubscribe at any time.

52 Responses to “The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith”

  1. Naomi

    I am not a fan of stories with big religious beliefs in them, so I’m not sure that I would pick this one up.
    A shame this book kind of depressed you, although it seems the author pulled you emotionally into the book a bit. Nice review!

    Naomi @ Nomi’s Paranormal Palace

  2. Elizabeth (Silver's Reviews)

    I enjoyed this book.

    It was a sad book, but the prose was so beautiful it made up for the sadness. The timeline was a bit confusing, but brilliant on the author’s part.

    I am on a blog tour for this book.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Silver’s Revivews

  3. Lupdilup

    One of my favorite Historical Fictions of all time is Ken Follet ‘s Pillars of the Earth, and I do remember the heavy religious hand on that novel, but I think it was product of the times, but like you said, it wasn’t preachy either.
    I think I really have to be in the mood to pick this one up. Thanks for sharing and keeping things diverse 🙂

  4. Lorna

    There was a time in my life that I might have wanted to read this. It does sound depressing and I just have a horror of reading anything about slavery-the horrible things that humans can do to other humans, just isn’t something I am able to read, especially as I get older. Maybe that’s why I like paranormal reads so much-because it’s not real. Thanks for the interesting review 🙂

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I feel you Lorna, I don’t dip my toe in this pool often since it can bring me down.

  5. Melanie (YA Midnight Reads)

    hmm, I’m glad that you enjoyed this one as a whole but it’s a shame that the third narration wasn’t good enough.

    Lovely review, Kimba <33

    • kimbacaffeinate

      thanks Melanie, while this didn’t wow me I was impressed by the author.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I really thought the last perspective failed and the over all tone was well depressing.

  6. Jenea

    The emotional side of this sounds good, but the slowness would probably lose me. I am glad that you enjoyed it.

  7. Melliane

    I always have a problem with a story is too much with religious aspect I confess but well in a whole it can be ok. And it sounds really intense, I like one if it’s only from time to time. Great review!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It wasn’t preachy, but you did feel what the characters were experiencing emotional and their faith was a huge part of it.

  8. Melissa (Books and Things)

    I love emotional books as much as I hate them. Hate to cry but do love how a good book produces all the feels. 🙂 Yes, I’m not confusing at all… I can deal with the religious beliefs as long as it isn’t preachy and you said it isn’t here. Not a book I would immediately pick up, but not one that I would now pass on either. Brilly review!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I am glad I read it Melissa, but couldn’t handle large doses of this type of book

  9. Maja (The Nocturnal Library)

    Words that create music?! You can’t just write something like that and expect me not to go find a copy right this second. I’m not sure about three separate narratives, but the writing has me curious.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Her writing is poetic and so descriptive. I would like to try a lighter book by her.

  10. Heidi

    I struggle a bit with this time period and I am not up for something steeped in religion and sad. I think I will pass. Thanks for the honest review.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yeah, I was hoping for something a little different, although aspects were wonderful

  11. Tanja

    What a pretty cover!! I haven’t seen this one around and while it does sound interesting depressing and religious reads aren’t really my thing. Still I’m glad you enjoyed it overall. Great review, Kim 🙂

  12. Candace

    Books like this are fascinating but I just tend to really struggle with them. I’ve decided I’m not really a fan of books with generations of characters. I’m glad you mostly enjoyed this though!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I cannot read a lot of them, but like to add them from time to time.

  13. Whitney

    I usually like sad/depressing novels but ones that are steeped in religious beliefs can be a turn off for me so I’m a bit torn on this one. Regardless, thanks for a nice and honest review.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It wasn’t preachy, but you did feel the sometimes oppressive nature of this religious period.

  14. Rita

    Well,m I do read depressing books sometimes but strangely I can handle sad and depressive in murder mysteries but it’s harder for me in general or literary fiction. The sticking point for me is that it is told in three narratives and I often have a problem with stories like that. I will get hooked into one plot and then be dragged away into another that might be less interesting to me.
    I will definitely think about this one, though I’m not sure. Thanks for a good and honest review.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I often feel that way but if the stories are strong enough it can be fantastic.

  15. braine

    This sounds so gray and depressing to me. I cant read this, it sounds too sad & I need happy in right now!

    Enjoy the long weekend lady!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This would give the group a lot to talk about, thanks Angela

  16. Jeann

    Wow it sounds like a huge, sweeping story Kimba with a lot of thought provoking and emotional parts about people’s lives during the American revolution. Generational stories usually aren’t for me, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  17. Red Iza

    The depression part is not for me, but I’ll keep it in mind for better times 🙂 Great review !

  18. Nick

    I don’t think I can do sad books. I usually stay very far away from them. I also think the multiple POVs would bother me. For some reason, I can never connect to a story line if a book has multiple POVs.
    Glad you liked this though, Kim! 🙂

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I feel you Nick, the time period drew me to this book, but yeah I ended up feeling depressed.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yeah, I cannot read too many sad books or I get depressed.

  19. kindlemom1

    I am glad this was an overall nice read for you KIm. I am not sure it is something I would like especially since it sounds like it moves sort of slow but maybe some day, you never know. 😉

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I liked the descriptive writing style but wanted more action

  20. Livia

    Truth is lately I’ve started to lose my patience with books who aren’t quite heavy on action, and I was SO the opposite a while back. This one sounds interesting, for instance, but I’d probably start to lose interest along the way if there wouldn’t be enough of a thrill, I guess.
    Maybe I’m becoming an adrenaline junkie reader 😐