Oprah Winfrey names Emancipation-era novel "The Sweetness of Water" as new book club pick
Oprah Winfrey joined "CBS This Morning" Tuesday to announce the latest page-turner for her book club.
"So one of the great joys for me is finding new authors. And I am so thrilled to introduce you to a debut author with his debut book, 'The Sweetness of Water,' by Nathan Harris," the talk show icon revealed.
"The Sweetness of Water," hitting shelves the same day as Winfrey's announcement, takes place in the days immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Harris's novel follows the story of two formerly enslaved brothers and the White family that hires them, after the brothers walk free from the plantation where they've spent their entire lives.
The author told "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil that getting his work selected for Oprah's Book Club was "one of the most surreal moments" in his life, that he "never in a million years" imagined would happen.
"I remember when Oprah made the call. My editors told me I had news, and I thought it was bad news. 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," Harris recounted. "And there's no better cure for hives than a call from Oprah."
Winfrey said the historical fiction novel caught her eye because she had "never seen anybody do that" for the period the book covers.
"As I was reading it too, Tony, I was, like, 'Oh, yes. Of course. What would those first few days, weeks, months, years be like?'" Winfrey said.
She turned to Harris and continued, "Then when I found out that it was a young, 29-year-old who wrote this book, I was, like, how'd — wasn't that my first thing to you? Wasn't that my first thing to you? 'How did you do this?'"
"I wish there was a good answer for it," Harris said. "I was just as curious as you were. I mean, I feel like history class goes from the Civil War to Reconstruction. I was thinking, 'What were those moments like,' you know? And in my mind, those two brothers are on the plantation. And it was almost like the gate swings open. You can go. You can stay. You can do whatever you want."
Winfrey asked Harris if he had studied a lot of history before writing his book.
"You know, I read a number of oral histories — oral narratives taken down from slaves talking about their experience — freed people. And the second I started reading them, I was almost, like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I wanna sort of not read more so I can let my imagination take over,'" Harris said.
Winfrey explained what it was about "The Sweetness of Water" that resonated with her.
"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. That's why I liked it so much, is because you get to literally look at how far we have come," she said.
Asked what he hopes people will take away from the book, Harris commented on how much "the past resonates" in his work.
"We're dealing with today issues of race, issues of class and the scars of the past," he said. "And I guess I want this novel and what this community faces to show that we can come together in a way. There is hope. And there is a chance to be uplifted. But we have to have empathy for people who don't look like us, people who, you know, again, are from a different class. And we can do that."
Winfrey called the book "kind of a Juneteenth celebration," coming out just days before the holiday.
"It's a perfect book for reading at exactly this time and a great book to take with you no matter where you're going this summer," she said.
Winfrey urged readers to discuss their experience on Oprah's Book Club — promising them, "y'all are gonna wanna talk about it."
"The thing is, I'm always reading when the books aren't out. So I don't have anybody to talk to. So you're gonna wanna talk about it," she said. "Come read with us and talk about it."
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