“The Water is Wide”

The Water is Wide
by Pat Conroy

Patricia‘s review – Aug 19, 2012

Really liked it
I will be reviewing this later. Pat Conroy is probably best known for his novel, “The Prince of Tides.” This is a memoir, not fiction, although most of his novels are some sort of rehashing of his youth, resplendent with memories of his tragic, painful, values-filled adolescence as the eldest son of a Marine family, moving 24 times by the end of high school.
The Water is Wide is the story of Conroy’s job as a young man during the VietNam conflict, teaching at an island school that has a 100 percent African American population. The locals have lost their primary source of income when a factory contaminated the productive oyster beds, so with jobs scarce, they spend their time fishing and crabbing and hunting to get by. The 18 students have few clues about life on the mainland or even basic facts about their country.
Conroy, a born and bred white Southerner, sets out to make a difference. He is thwarted by the principal, the superintendent, the school board, and the state. He uses music, the news, and field trips to try to broaden the horizons of his pupils while attempting to reach some very basic literacy levels.
I am perplexed by the time frame for the memoir. It often says that he spent a little more than a year at the school, and yet he met Barbara, married her, and three daughters are born in the course of the narrative. That was confusing.
He chooses to commute to school by boat, which according to local wisdom is fraught with perils in the winter months.
Conroy is at his best when he is on a story-telling roll. His honesty about himself, his prejudices, and his earnest wish to make a difference in the lives of these children is engaging. In spite of that, and in spite of the mutual love that forms between the teacher and his pupils, he does not impress the powers that be, not even the teacher/principal in the next room.

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