Book Review: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

Posted November 8, 2011 by Heather in Book Reviews / 3 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review:  The Taste of Salt by Martha SouthgateThe Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
Published by Algonquin Books on September 2011
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: the publisher

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Josie Henderson is a marine biologist who has always been fascinated with water. She has a good job and she’s married to a good guy; her life seems pretty ideal from the outside. Behind the scenes, though, it’s a different story.

From the back cover:

…as a senior-level black female scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she is practically alone in her field. But in building this impressive life for herself, she has tried to shed the one thing she cannot: her family roots back in Cleveland. When Tick, her brother and childhood ally against their alcoholic father, arrives on her doorstep fresh from rehab and teetering on the edge of a relapse, Josie must finally face her family’s past–and her own patterns of addiction.

So not only has Josie had to work harder to prove herself as a Black woman in a field dominated by White men, but she has also felt the need to separate herself from her family and their problems with addiction. She doesn’t want to be misrecognized as one of “those” black women who has the embarrassing drunk father who was kicked out of the house and the brother who’s been in rehab for drugs. Unfortunately, Josie’s denial of just how much her family’s battle with addiction has affected her–and her refusal to admit that she needs help dealing with it–causes Josie a lot of confusion, both emotionally and psychologically. Eventually, Josie is forced to come to terms with who she is, how she has been affected by her past, and what she really wants out of life in the future.

The Taste of Salt is a good example of the old saying, “You can take the girl out of [Cleveland], but you can’t take [Cleveland] out of the girl.” In other words, one can choose to leave home and never go back, but one can never fully leave behind where one’s from–a person’s past will always be a part of who he/she is. Martha Southgate also does a good job of describing for us the ways in which addiction affects individuals and their families, and the specific ways in which addiction can affect the Black community, which isn’t often written about.

Josie is a well-developed character; she feels very genuine to me. There are a lot of things about her that I can relate to, even if some of our similarities are the result of different experiences. I loved that her childhood family was a family of readers (just like mine):

I was raised to respect books–the house was full of them. From the time I was little, it was drummed into our heads that books were almost the most important thing in the world, second only to getting a good education.

I could also relate well to her thoughts about motherhood, even though we have come to the same conclusion through very different experiences:

I’ve never felt like my femaleness is tied up in whether or not I have offspring. To tell the truth, I’m not entirely sure that I want to have kids. Wait. The truth. The truth is, I know I don’t want to. […] I’m afraid that I don’t have enough to give, that I can’t love a baby the way it needs to be loved.

In addition to these things, I also have a great deal of empathy for people who are dealing with addiction, whether it be their own or that of someone close to them. I felt a strong connection to Josie within the first fifteen pages of the book. That is the mark of a good character.

I really enjoyed reading The Taste of Salt. Martha Southgate is a very good writer and I liked the way she chose to structure the story. She not only has Josie tell the story from her own point of view, but she has Josie imagine her family’s story from each of their points of view as well. I really like how the whole picture was pieced together in that way. This book will make for excellent discussion in BOOK CLUB (run by Devourer of Books and Linus’s Blanket), and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in good literary fiction and/or the themes I wrote about in my review.


(To learn more about Martha Southgate, please visit her official website.)

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