Oprah Winfrey picks Emancipation-era novel ‘The Sweetness of Water’ for book club

The author Nathan Harris
Nathan Harris set his first novel, “The Sweetness of Water,” in the Civil War era.
(Laurel Sager)

Oprah Winfrey announced Tuesday that her latest book club pick is “The Sweetness of Water,” a novel set in the waning days of the Civil War.

Written by debut author Nathan Harris, the novel takes place after the Emancipation Proclamation and explores the closeness between two freedmen, brothers Prentiss and Landry, and their alliance with a Georgia farmer against the backdrop of Reconstruction.

Winfrey described “The Sweetness of Water” as a “kind of a Juneteenth celebration.” The book was released Tuesday, just a few days before the June 19 holiday.

The cover image of "The Sweetness of Water," a novel by Nathan Harris.
(Little, Brown & Co.)

On “CBS This Morning,” Winfrey said she admired Harris’ book for exploring the intersection of race, hope and community during a harrowing period in the nation’s history.

Harris, 29, lives in Austin, Texas, and is a Michener fellow at the University of Texas. Harris said he drew from the oral narratives of freed slaves and researched the history of Reconstruction to lay the groundwork for his historical fiction.

Speaking with Winfrey and “CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil, Harris recalled the day he learned “The Sweetness of Water” was the new Oprah pick.


“My editors told me I had news, and I thought it was bad news,’ Harris said. “I actually got hives, and I was going to urgent care. So I was kinda panicking, ‘What’s going on?’ And then I get the call from her. And there’s no better cure for hives than a call from Oprah.”

Winfrey said she liked the author’s decision to set the story in the days following Emancipation. “I think one of the things that’s so relevant about the story is that you can feel the essence of what it means to have come from there to here, “ she said. “That’s why I liked it so much, is because you get to literally look at how far we have come.”

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June 11, 2021

Critics in the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and elsewhere have praised the book. “Harris’ first novel is an aching chronicle of loss, cruelty, and love in the wake of community devastation,” said Booklist.

Novelist Richard Russo, the author of “Marriage Story: An American Memoir,” said, “What a gifted, assured writer Nathan Harris is … better than any debut novel has a right to be.”

Winfrey invited readers to discuss the novel with Oprah’s Book Club, saying, “Come read with us and talk about it.” A discussion between Winfrey and Harris will air July 23 on Apple TV+.