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The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy
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The Water Is Wide (1972)

by Pat Conroy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,467317,340 (3.94)81
Recently added byprivate library, Valdon, randmur, almin, mcountr, chuckyxchess, jimrgill, janimar, Elishibai
  1. 20
    Christy by Catherine Marshall (JenniferRobb)
    JenniferRobb: Christy goes to teach in the Appalachians and Conroy goes to teach on Yamacraw Island, but both deal with students who don't know the basics of education as we think of them.
  2. 00
    Dangerous minds by LouAnne Johnson (JenniferRobb)
    JenniferRobb: Though Conroy's setting is rural and Johnson's setting is urban, both deal with students who can learn if given a chance and an understanding teacher who is willing to reach them where they are to take them where they need to go.
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» See also 81 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Forty-six years after it was first published, and nearly fifty years after the events he describes in this book, Pat Conroy’s memoir stills packs a strong punch. A number of factors—from Conroy’s almost-unselfconscious use of the “n” word to his acknowledgment of his mixed motives as a reformed racist—mark the historical perspective of this tale.

The memoir itself relates Conroy’s year as an upper elementary school teacher on Yamacraw Island (actually Daufuskie Island) off the coast of South Carolina. Isolated both literally and figuratively from the mainland (the island is accessible only by boat), the students of the island’s lone school—all of whom are black—have been forsaken by all the powers that be. Most of the students cannot read, write, spell their name, identify the President or the country in which they live. With the zeal of a martyr, Conroy embraces the challenge of educating these children. The year is 1969, and the place is South Carolina, so the outcome is expected. This is, after all, a memoir and not a work of fiction.

The book poignantly depicts the futile battle Conroy wages against the subversive damage wrought by institutionalized racism. To be fair, he realizes some minor triumphs along the way, but in the end, his time with the children of Yamacraw is brief, and he laments his ineffectual stint as their teacher. Conroy’s prose is legendary, and he deploys it here in service to a sad but true story that remains relevant nearly half a century later. ( )
  jimrgill | Jul 23, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Apr 2009):
- Pat Conroy undertook a virtual overseas mission when he agreed to teach on a South Carolina barrier island. He arrived to find near-squalor, poor hygiene, and the kids didn't even know the name of the ocean surrounding their closed world. He kept me engaged, their were humorous and touching anecdotes by the dozens. That he is virtually alone in his energetic effort to wipe out ignorance among his pupils is clear. What bothered me the most is that he seemed hellbent on taking out a certain vengeance on the shiftless administration and politicos for failing to heed his cries. This ire rises now and again, muffling the otherwise fine plot.
- I know Conroy is gifted.. but I'm now a bit regretful I started with this book. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Apr 28, 2018 |
My better half and I love about two thirds of each other’s books, and we avoid each other’s thirds. This causes friendly disagreements over choices. Now, we have what some might call a healthy library, so there is more than a lifetime of reading for each of us. A case in point is Pat Conroy’s memoir, The Water is Wide. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t find one of her favorites finds its way into my TBR pile, and I must confess to some squirreling away of my favorites in hers. Then my book club choose this Conroy for our book club. I was trapped, I had to give in and read this book. Now, deciding which authors to read or to avoid is a complicated process for me.

Conroy is a best-selling author, and he is noted for his novels set in his native South Carolina. River is an autobiographical story of his first year of teaching. He chooses an island off the coast of South Carolina, Yamacraw Island. Conroy’s description of the horrific lack of education turned my stomach. Conroy recites the abysmal list of the failure of the school board to take care of students merely because they were black. Conroy wrote, “‘Six children who could not recite the alphabet. Eighteen children who did not know the President. Eighteen children who did not know what country they lived in…’ I slammed twenty-three of these strange facts down their throats, hoping they would gag and choke on the knowledge. My voice grew tremulous and enraged, and it suddenly felt as if I were shouting from within a box with madmen surrounding me, ignoring me, and taunting me with their silence. My lips trembled convulsively as my speech turned into a harangue and the great secret I had nursed in my soul thundered into the open room” (266). Disgust at the treatment of these children is not powerful enough; shame is not powerful enough to brand this pitifully racist schoolboard consisting of seven whites and two African-American women. The placement of these two women was gerrymandering of a sort.

Not only were these children neglected and dismissed as “unteachable,” Yamacraw Island faced another catastrophe. Conroy writes, “Then a villain appeared. It was an industrial factory situated on a knoll above the Savannah River many miles away from Yamacraw. The villain spewed its excrement into the river, infected the creeks, and as silently as the pull of the tides, the filth crept to the shores of Yamacraw. As every good inspector knows, the unfortunate consumer who lets an infected oyster slide down his throat is flirting with hepatitis” (5).

Conroy confesses to a period he was racist himself. While he was in high school, a teacher invited a group of students, including Conroy, to his home. The students teased the professor for being a n****r-lover. The professor “spat out a devastating reply” then “he played ‘We Shall Overcome’ by Pete Seger. I remember that moment with crystal clarity and I comprehended it as a turning point in my life: a moment terrible in its illumination of a toad in my soul, an ugliness so pervasive that it seemed my insides were vomit” Of course, it still took a while for Conroy to completely abandon his prejudices, he continues, “the journey at least had a beginning, a point of embarkation” (94-95). The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy is a story we must never forget. 5 Stars ( )
  rmckeown | Apr 25, 2018 |
Conroy's memoir of the time he spent teaching on "Yamacraw Island," his fictional name for Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina in ~1969. His portraits of the people there and of teaching the African American children there is fascinating. Some other aspects of the book dragged a bit for me (his descriptions of getting to and from the island, his fights with the school board) were less interesting, almost entirely because I've heard such things before, and these descriptions were no different than those. That is not a criticism of the book; Conroy writing in 1972 can't be held accountable for the fact that a reader fifty years later has heard the very stories he helped make known. I do wish he had spent a little more time providing context--the history of the island and so on. But on the whole, definitely worth reading, especially as Conroy's account of this year rarely, if ever, descends into white savior nonsense: he is fully aware of his racism and his limitations and ends the book remarking that he doesn't think he changed the lives of his students one bit. It's kind of the opposite of the "inspirational teacher" trope, as far as I could see. There's nothing particularly "feel good" about this narrative, and that was somewhat refreshing in a way. Heads up for language, especially racist terms we would be shocked to find used matter-of-factly in a such a book if it were written today. ( )
  lycomayflower | Feb 28, 2018 |
When Pat Conroy was a new teacher, he set out for a small island off the coast of South Carolina in 1969/70 to teach poor kids at a black school there. What a culture shock! Not only did these kids mostly not know how to read or write, but they had never experienced Halloween! Pat did a lot for these kids over the year, and taught them in unorthodox ways.

I thought this was a memoir, but it was only at the very end of the book that it said it was “based on” his year on the island. I think it also said “fiction” somewhere, but I may be mixing that up with a review I read. I did disagree with one thing he did/argued for, but overall, I was enjoyed this book. It just might have been nice to know ahead of time that it may not have been a completely true account, though. ( )
  LibraryCin | Nov 20, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pat Conroyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hazenberg, AnneliesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The water is wide,
I cannot get o'er,
Neither have I wings to fly.
Get me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall cross,
My true love and I.
-British Folk Song
The river is deep, the river is wide,
Milk and honey on the other side.
-"Michael, Row The Boat Ashore"
Dedication
This book is dedicated to my wife,
Barbara Bolling Conroy
First words
The Southern School Superintendent is a kind of remote deity who breathes the purer air of Mount Parnassus.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Conrack is the movie made from the work, The Water is Wide, by Pat Conroy.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553381571, Paperback)

The island is nearly deserted, haunting, beautiful. Across a slip of ocean lies South Carolina. But for the handful of families on Yamacraw island, America is a world away. For years the people here lived proudly from the sea, but now its waters are not safe. Waste from industry threatens their very existence–unless, somehow, they can learn a new life. But they will learn nothing without someone to teach them, and their school has no teacher.

Here is PAT CONROY’S extraordinary drama based on his own experience–the true story of a man who gave a year of his life to an island and the new life its people gave him.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:16 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The author describes his experiences teaching on the island of Yamacraw off the coast of South Carolina, home to a mostly African-American, illiterate population.

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