by Katy Simpson Smith
Genres: Historical Fiction
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.
• 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.
• 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.
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