The Story of Land and Sea

The Story of Land and Sea: A Novel - Katy Simpson Smith

Occasionally, I read a book that even after a day or two of reflection I am still not sure what I feel about the book and I am thus stumped when someone asks me how I would rate this book (and not liking to rank a book as I believe most books are much more than their ratings).

I was interested to read this book for several reasons; I enjoy historical fiction, North Carolina (the setting for the book) is now my new home state so enjoying learning the history of the area, and the author has written a history book.

I enjoyed how the author was able to take me to a particular place and time – the waning days of the American Revolutionary War set in a small prospering coastal town in North Carolina whose growth will be spurred by the growing town of New Bern. The book informs and reminds how challenging childbirth was in the past, often with the mother not surviving and how this changed the dynamics of childrearing. While I had no issues with the lyrical yet taut language it did not invest me in the characters. The story format also contributed to my often lack of interest in the characters as the first part told me a little too much of what to expect for the rest of the book.

Themes of duty, devotion, free will and self-blame are well played out and the self-rationalization of the characters show-off that human nature is the same across time. For many in current times, slavery has one face but the author shows us slavery in time as it was evolving into the formal institution that defined the United States and those that were enslaved did not believe the “hype” that sometimes cane from the “caring” slaveholders.

Overall, this book added to my knowledge of time and place despite my lack of connection to the characters.