Day 2 of 28 – Black History Month – Martha Southgate’s “The Taste of Salt”

By: Aryanne Ferguson

I read Martha Southgate‘s “The Taste of Salt” about a year ago.  Here’s what I had to say then – “This is a first person novel narrated by a black female PhD oceanographer in her mid-30s, set on the West Coast.  The novel addresses the challenges unique to black academics.”

It starts with an arresting quote:

The cure for anything is salt water –
sweat, tears, or the sea.
–Isak Dinesen

The main conflict of the novel stems from the narrator’s husband of 4 years, who pressures her to have children. Complicating that, her brother is an alcoholic just out of his second stint in rehab. The narrator’s parents divorced because her father was an alcoholic, but he’s been sober for 10 years when the story takes place. Her husband is white, and at the beginning of the novel a black colleague is hired at the university, moves into the office next to her, and they start an affair. Themes are alcoholism, shame, interracial relationships, affairs, marriage, prejudice in the workplace, and families.

Here’s a passage from the novel which I thought was wonderful:

Daniel, my husband, is white. I don’t know why I announce it except that it’s the first thing you notice, especially around here, the two of us. People don’t disapprove but they do notice. Well, here’s the other reason I say it – because I notice it myself. I’ve been with other white guys. Not that many black guys, to tell the truth. Just one, in grad school. It didn’t work out for a lot of reasons. But sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to make a life with someone who looked more like me, maybe had lived more like me. I know race isn’t the way to make those decisions. But in my secret heart, sometimes, I just with Daniel knew certain things, certain sounds, certain feelings, in a way that he just can’t. –(pg 10)

Check out Martha Southgate!

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