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The Water Is Wide: A Memoir Paperback – March 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews


“Reading PAT CONROY is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.”
Houston Chronicle

“A hell of a good story.”
The New York Times

From the Inside Flap

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553381571
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400008940
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (542 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pat Conroy is the author of eight previous books: The Boo, The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season, and The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life. He lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina. Photo copyright: David G. Spielman

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 9, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In Pat Conroy's first book, The Water is Wide, he writes of a universal theme: young idealistic man sets out to change the world and runs into a brick wall. But while this story has been told by other writers, nobody writes with the passion and emotion of Conroy.

The Water is Wide is based on Conroy's experiences of teaching on Daufuskie Island in the late 1960's (thinly disguised as Wamacraw Island in the book). After his application was turned down for the Peace Corps, Conroy applied for a job teaching black children on this isolated sea island off the South Carolina coast. His 18 charges were from the upper elementary grades. What he discovered was an unbelievable shock. These 18 students did not know what country they lived in, the name of their president, or what ocean lapped their beach. Some couldn't read or write, recognize the alphabet, write their names or count to ten. Also, none of these children who lived surrounded by water could swim. Everything Conroy had learned about teaching was obsolete on Daufuskie, and he had to be flexible in his methodology in teaching his students to learn. Unfortunately, he hits one roadblock after another from supervisors, the superintendent, the school board, his only colleague and even the parents (who liked what Conroy was doing, but didn't want their children leaving the island for trips). He also runs into hypocrisy, inertia, prejudice, and jealousy.

While Conroy is trying to teach his students, they are giving him an education as well.
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204 of 214 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on January 1, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pat Conroy's teaching experience on an impoverished South Carolina island in 1969 is reminiscent of Eliot Wigginton's situation in Rabun County, Georgia, during the same time period. (Read Wigginton's book, _Sometimes a Shining Moment: A Foxfire Experience_, if you can locate it.) In each instance, a well-meaning and hopeful young teacher was dropped into what seemed to be an almost impossible educational situation -- an isolated community with seemingly backward students, nonexistent funds for decent materials, and goals and textbooks that didn't come close to meeting students' needs. In Conroy's case, the added strains of regional racism and administrative power games were too much to overcome, and he had to leave after serving a little more than a year there.
And yet, _The Water is Wide_ is a humorous book. We laugh at the white teacher's ignorance of the Gullah children's lifestyles, and we laugh at the children's reactions to the facts he tries to teach them. It's one "fish out of water" gag after another, so to speak. We applaud Conroy's dismissal of the educational chain of command and we cross our fingers that field trips to the mainland will come off without a hitch. We hope that the students will be better off than they ever were before his arrival; for this commentary on one year at one small elementary school stands for all the rest of us, across time, at all the other schools in the nation.
The most disturbing fact here is that those of us working in public education today can easily recognize practices that we still have to deal with: superintendents as dictators; ineffective or intimidating school boards; administrators who rule from afar and never set foot in any classroom.
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66 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Denise Bentley on July 24, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Set on a small island off the Carolina shores, where Conroy spent a year teaching a small group of black children, who were so lost in time that the name of the ocean that surrounds their island was unknown to them. This colorful and delightful memoir will warm your heart and open your eyes to a system that has not delivered on its promises. Those promises being, the right to an education funded by taxes and delivered in the appropriate manner by someone who can get the job done.
Ever upbeat we find the protagonist working his way into the lives of the children on this all but forgotten island. We watch them attempt to bloom like so many different flowers, and enjoy their trials and tribulations as well as their ability to conquer their ignorance when given half a chance. Different than his novels, PRINCE OF TIDES and BEACH MUSIC, but none the less just as good, this is an endearing and sweet taste of a champion among the children. Kelsana 7/24/01
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Old Fisherman on February 11, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Before Pat Conroy became a successful author he was a teacher. This book chronicles the one year he spent teaching in a two-room schoolhouse on Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina. It is a moving and often funny story of one man's attempt to bring education to eighteen mostly-forgotten black children. Children who didn't know the name of the ocean at their front door, didn't know who was their President, didn't even know the name of the country they lived in. However the story never becomes maudlin and the tone is upbeat throughout. Many times I found myself laughing out loud. Mr. Conroy is an excellent writer. I recommend this book highly.
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