Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

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.

Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Expected publication: August 26th 2014 by Harper 
Genre: Historical Fiction

Kristine's Thoughts:

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from Harper via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

Part one of this book tells the story of John and his daughter Tabitha and then part two goes back to tell the story of Tabitha's mother Helen. The third part tells the story of Helen's father, husband, slave and her slaves son.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed and parts that I didn't. The writing was good but I found that it dragged on numerous occasions. If I had to pick, I would say that I enjoyed the second part of the book the best. Helen's story interested me and kept me engaged the most. I found the third part of the book to be all over the map and the least interesting. I would have loved to read more about Helen's slave Moll.

I won't re-tell the story but if I had to pick one word that best describes this story it would be DEPRESSING. The entire book revolves around grief, loss and loneliness. There is no silver lining to be found at all. If you like a book with a happily ever after, I don't recommend picking this one up because you won't find it. Perhaps this is with keeping true to a time of great hardship where things were never easy but it was still depressing all the same.

About the Author
Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Mount Holyoke College and received a Ph.D. 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.


  1. It's really interesting that you say it dragged! My immediate thought after reading the description was, "how did she fit all that into 256 pages?" I probably wouldn't read this one since it's so depressing. I do like a silver lining. Real life is depressing enough! Thanks for sharing :)

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

  2. Nice review! Ordinarily, I don't think I would pick this book up, but it actually sounds a bit interesting even though it's sad.