The New York Times Sunday Book Review Shortlist
Black Caucus of the American Library Association 2015 Honor Book in Fiction
Booklist Starred Review
O, The Oprah Magazine "10 Titles to Pick Up Now"
"Lauren Francis-Sharma's talent shines."-USA Today
A glorious and moving multigenerational, multicultural saga that sweeps from the 1940s through the 1960s in Trinidad and the United States. 'Til the Well Runs Dry opens in a seaside village in the north of Trinidad, where young Marcia Garcia, a gifted and smart-mouthed sixteen-year-old seamstress, lives alone, raising two small boys and guarding a family secret. When she meets Farouk Karam, an ambitious young policeman (so taken with Marcia that he elicits help from a tea-brewing obeah woman to guarantee her ardor), the rewards and risks in Marcia's life amplify forever. On an island rich with laughter, calypso, Carnival, cricket, beaches, and salty air, sweet fruits and spicy stews, the novel follows Marcia and Farouk from their sassy and passionate courtship through personal and historical events that threaten Marcia's secret, entangle the couple and their children in a tumultuous scandal, and put the future in doubt for all of them.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
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'Til the Well Runs Dry
By Lauren Francis-Sharma
PicadorCopyright © 2015 Lauren Francis-Sharma
All rights reserved.
The cardboard box trembled. The panicked squeals from inside it grew louder as I hurried through the overgrown grass.
The school day was half over. Children were noisily filling the road across from me, unbuttoning their stifling uniforms in the heat of the lunch hour, scrambling home. I’d long ago stopped wondering what they thought of me. I didn’t want to feel the pang of loss for that old, simpler life.
I crouched to peek inside the box.
A wild opossum, a manicou, clawed at the corners. For an amateur hunter, a manicou was a big prize—a delicacy that could stretch for days—but distaste for finishing the job held me back.
“Can’t be lucky if you’s a coward,” my mother had always said.
Over at the right side of the yard, under the purpleheart tree, the boys were digging rusty spoons into the hot earth, hoping the bitter mounds of caked black dirt they piled onto their warped utensils would magically turn into warm slices of coconut bread. They hadn’t noticed me yet, off to the left, watching our dinner plan its escape.
I ran to the underside of the house, finding the hammer my father had used to repair the base of my mother’s sewing table before she died and long before the neighbors sent him away from the village. Returning to the trap, I steeled myself and reached inside.
I snatched the manicou’s small furry neck. Its rigid body thrashed across the damp floor of the box, its slanty, black, rat-like eyes looked up at me, wide and frantic. The manicou’s pulse quickened against my fingertips. It was putting up an honorable fight. But it could change nothing about its fate. The same was true of me.
I wouldn’t look into the darkened box again. Instead, I squeezed its coarse fur and its next layer of squishy flesh, harder and harder, pushing its flailing body down into the peeling bottom of the box. I slid out the hammer I had wedged between my thighs and with half-closed eyes, I smashed its skull over and over until, finally, the throbbing between my shaking, bloodied fingers came to an end.* * *
The boys sat side by side on the cool slab floor. I spooned the boiled manicou from the pot and scraped away the spiky fur with the knife I’d sharpened on a yard stone. The slightness of its body in my palms made me feel sickly. I swallowed thick bile before making a delicate cut down the middle of the manicou’s spine, pulling back its slick skin to expose the soft, pink-grey meat.
The boys moved onto their knees and watched through eager brown eyes as I sliced the meat into inch-wide strips, layering it with seasonings. Lemon juice, salt, black pepper, fresh chunks of garlic, onion. I lifted the bowl to their noses, letting them smell the flavors seeping into the meat before I tossed the tender, sticky pieces with my fingers. I never tired of seeing their awe at my performing the simplest tasks. I loved them for being with me when there was no one else left.
I nudged them aside and relit the coal pot. The shimmery flames smacked the pot’s rusty bottom. The boys drooled. I passed my shirt over their mouths and tried to shoo them away, but they refused. The sugar melted into the hot oil, turning silvery black. I slid the damp cuts into the searing pot. The smoke swallowed us. The coconut milk whitened the pieces, offering a promising sizzle.
My plan that afternoon was to feed the boys early and get them to my neighbor, Carol Ann, so I could leave on time for my appointment with Mrs. Duncan in Tunapuna. I wanted to avoid the after-school ruckus and the judgmental eyes. But it took a few hours for the tough meat to soften and stew, and then the boys took their time, massaging each bite between their small teeth.
“Eat up,” I said.
I wiped their faces, cleaned their ears, then set aside slivers for each of the next four days. Rice, bread, cassava, breadfruit—any one of those would accompany the leftover meat and gravy quite nicely.
I hurried the boys to Carol Ann’s, where they both pressed their backs against her door and began to cry.
“Come. Let her go,” Carol Ann said, yanking at their shirtsleeves.
Being a seamstress required house calls. And living way out in Blanchisseuse, where roads were often blocked by landslides, for weeks or even months, I could never be sure when I would make it back. Carol Ann, a client whose taste didn’t match her budget, had been kind enough, on occasion, to mind them for me, though I long suspected by the way she chewed the inside of her cheek that she’d rather repay her debt to me any other way.* * *
In Tunapuna, I delivered four drop-waist dresses before arriving at the top of Mrs. Duncan’s road. Although Mrs. Duncan had been my mother’s most loyal customer and likely wouldn’t have cared that I was ten minutes late, I despised the tardiness. I was sixteen years old. It was difficult getting customers to trust me. Sticking to my word, keeping my mother’s past clients happy, kept food on the table.
I walked briskly with the sun disappearing behind a sky half-full of dust-colored clouds. I smiled at two ladies who stood near the road chatting with metal spoons in their hands. The thick scents of their aromatic foods boiling outside in heavy pots reminded me that I hadn’t eaten enough.
I tapped on Mrs. Duncan’s door. I had scrubbed my fingers with vinegar and lemon juice before leaving home, but as they gripped Mrs. Duncan’s dress box, I could still smell the musky manicou fur.
“Eh, who knockin’ the door?” came the deep bass voice of Inspector Duncan, Mrs. Duncan’s husband.
I could hear Mrs. Duncan sucking her teeth for a long cheups. “Take two steps and open the door, David.”
“Boy, you smart to stay to yourself,” Inspector Duncan joked to someone. “Get married and from the day you bring she home, you only gettin’ lip.”
Thunderous footfalls grew close. I wiped thumb-size drops of rain from my face. I had to get out of Tunapuna within the hour or I wouldn’t make it back to Blanchisseuse in a rainstorm without flapping all the day’s money at some taxi driver who’d complain that “Nobody in dey right mind would leave Blanchisseuse one day and expect to go back de same day.”
Inspector Duncan finally opened the door, gulping the last of what smelled like a spicy puncheon rum. “Good afternoon.” His hands were each the length of a newborn baby. His face sank into pillowy, purple-black, shiny skin that covered a head the size of a small boulder.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
I smiled but could say nothing else. My face had reddened at the sight of the East Indian man sitting on the floral-printed couch, cradling a glass, staring at me.
He was quite handsome, I’ll admit. But he was old. Probably twenty-two or twenty-three. His skin, a deep-fried, golden brown and smooth like velvet pile. The outline of his lips like a bow tie. His nose, downward sloping and strong, with a black mole at its tip. His midnight-black shoes shone like marble, and his shirt, lightly starched, caressed his small muscular frame.
I tried to release his gaze, but his large, dark eyes attached themselves to me. Eyes like a black, hot night. Eyes that made me want to crawl into something small and cool and shadowy.
“Jennifer!” Inspector Duncan called. “The young lady … uh … Ma-Marcia … is here with your dress. Come back in here!”
Mrs. Duncan shrieked with delight, wiping her hands on a red and white cotton apron I’d given her as a gift. When she smiled, her cheeks grew into small, firm circles. “Oh, my dressmaker! Come, chile.” She sweetly scooted her husband aside. “Don’t mind them two old fellas. They don’t teach manners in the police force.”
Again, I tried to shake off the Indian fella’s gaze. Staring straight at him and making sure not to be detected by the Duncans, I rolled my eyes to the top of my head.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Duncan,” I said, patting her hand.
“This chile is always so polite,” she said.
The fitting took only fifteen minutes, but by the time we returned to the parlor, Inspector Duncan’s patience with his wife had worn thin. “Jennifer?” he said, with a hard cheups. “Where’s the food? We’re hungry.”
I was pretty certain their conversation would wind up in a fight. I mumbled, “Good night,” closing the door behind me. The Indian fella sat, huddled in his corner seat, watching me leave.
If I had any luck I’d catch the last bus and make it back to Blanchisseuse before midnight. If I didn’t, I would have to beg Mrs. Duncan to let me stay the night and run off early the next morning so as not to leave Carol Ann in a pinch past lunchtime.
It was raining harder. I scrambled toward the bus stop where a quiet crowd had already gathered. Footsteps crunched on the gravel behind me. I heard someone say “Hello,” breathlessly, at my back. I didn’t bother to turn around.
“Sorry,” the voice said, moving closer. “I said ‘hello.’”
Finally, I turned. The Indian fella from the Duncans’ couch. Had he left before Mrs. Duncan’s dinner was served?
“Hello.” The wetness on my bare arms left me so chilly, even my voice shook.
“We just met at the Duncan house up the street there,” he said.
The bulging, bright headlights of the bus caught my attention. I didn’t have time for that fella’s gibberish. “We didn’t meet,” I said.
The bus forced its way through new puddles, and I squeezed between two skinny fellas in the middle of the line. Tapping my wet sandals against the muddied walk, I climbed the steps, positioned myself in the first empty seat I could find, and never once looked back.
Copyright © 2014 by Lauren Francis-Sharma
Excerpted from 'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma. Copyright © 2015 Lauren Francis-Sharma. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a fantastic novel! Lauren Francis-Sharma swept me away into Marcia's and her family's lives from page one through to the end of the novel, and even after I had finished reading. I now find myself thinking about the characters and their reactions to events, and the beautifully raw and expertly crafted descriptions of both. If you'd like to be swept away too, read this novel.
I read an advance copy of Til the Well Runs Dry and I really connected with the characters in this book from the very first chapter. Marcia Garcia's life is filled with many ups and downs that resonated with me. This book took me through every emotion possible and at the end I wanted to follow Marcia and her family into the next chapter of their lives. This is a wonderful book that should be read by everyone who enjoys historical fiction. I have a feeling that this book will definitely become a literary classic of our time.
This was a very well written book. I didn’t want it to end. The author did a great job of keeping your attention until the last page. Definitely up there with my favorite books.
I LOVED this novel, oh my goodness, it kept me interested to the end! This is only the 2nd book I've read written by and about someone from Trinidad. I really enjoy reading about other parts of the world, I find it interesting because we are all basically the same. Marcia (the mother) has suce a hard life yet the only thing she wants is to keep her children safe and provide for them. Her "love" story is so sad especially how the in laws react to her but she manages to go on, loved this woman and her story.
I loved this book. I would recommend it for a great summer or vacation reading list. I could not put it down.. I was HOOKED from the beginning to the end. The author's style of writing made me feel like i was actually there watching the events take place. She provided some historical highlights that paved the path for a lot of West Indians. I visualized the main characters journey from the country side to the city. Her life was filled with pain but she never let it break her. She did the best that she could have done for her children. Marcia Garcia represents our ancestors who kept family secrets and remained private out of "shame" and pride. These are the experiences that has shaped some of us and passed down from generation to generation. Reading this book inspired me to look closer at my family history and talk to my older relatives to see what they can recall. In order to know where you are going you need to know where you came from....
I started and couldn't put it down. Had work in the morning and stayed up until dawn. The author did a great job exposing you to the character's culture and guiding you through different emotions. Yes, there are 1 or 2 slow moments, but that is to be expected in most stories. If you're looking for a good story with drama, excitment, tragedy, and humor choose this book.
Well written and engaging. Heart warming and heart wrenching all at once. Characters are alive.
This book was a page turner. I didn't want to put it down. It also gave us an up close view into another culture struggles, how classism tries to define who they are and what they are capable of doing, and how keeping family secrets can mold or alter the course of your life.
Enjoyed this book and would recommend it.
I found the book to be interesting and moderately entertaining, but not a strong page turner. It was an interesting tail of struggle and defiance, but for some reason I just didn't become absorbed in the story. I apprecisted the description of the environment surrounding the characters.
This is a wonderful novel, but not one that will cheer you up. The novel is set primarily in Trinidad, and at the very end, in New York. The story takes place between 1942 and 1965 during which the principle character, Marcia Garcia grows from a teenager to a mother of four in her mid-thirties. Not knowing much about Trinidad and the nature of its population and its culture, I found this novel was worth reading for this reason alone. Marcia Garcia’s life is, to say the least, a hard one. I can think of maybe two of the people that Marcia has to interact with in the novel who are not seriously flawed in some way. She shows almost unbelievable courage in her struggle to survive. The novel ends on an upbeat note, but barely so. The author is an American but the child of Trinidadian immigrants. She writes this novel, her first, in a way that males one believe that witnessed Marcia Garcia’s struggles first-hand. The novel is brilliantly written, and as one who has tried to write a little myself, I stand in awe of this author. She reinforces what I already know about myself: - that there is no hope for me as a novelist.
It was a page-turner. The book kept you wondering was going to happen next.
Lauren Francis-Sharma delivers an epic saga through the eyes and life of native Trinidadian, Marcia Garcia, that transcends the 1940s-1960s in her debut novel, Til the Well Runs Dry. In the wide spot in the road of Blanchisseuse, Trinidad, Maria Garcia does all she is able to do to put food on the table for the nameless, young twin boys. Thankfully, her neighbor Carol Ann would care for them whenever Marcia needed to travel the equivalent of the other side of the world to Tunapuna, Trinidad. Marcia is a seamstress and an accomplished one at that—a talent that ran from her mother’s veins directly into Marcia’s hands. At barely sixteen, she is motherless (and fatherless) and the boys are the only family Marcia has left. Her responsibility of raising the boys was enough for Marcia to continue to put one foot in front of the other each day. Mrs. Duncan was Marcia’s mother’s most faithful customer. Keeping clients like her happy was what kept food on Marcia’s table. Fate has a funny way of entering a person’s life. Such was the case the day Marcia was making her dress delivery to Mrs. Duncan. One of the most handsome boys—young man, actually, Marcia had ever seen happened to be at the Duncan house when she arrived. While the prospect of a life beyond the boys was far removed from possibility, Marcia couldn’t help but steal more than a glimpse of the polished specimen of Farouk Karam when she arrived with her delivery. Unbeknownst to Marcia, Farouk felt the same way once he witnessed her hypnotic beauty. As though destiny was on both their sides, their paths cross again and their lives together (or not-so-together) are delivered on a road that entails a journey of not only an abundance of heartache, but many unforeseen misfortunes in their lives together. Lauren Francis-Sharma has accomplished a captivating story in her debut novel. Given the fact she is a child of Trinidadian immigrants, this writer has written what she knows. I have never been to Trinidad, but after reading the many descriptive passages devoted to the lay of the land and listened to the native dialogue she has devoted to each character of this intriguing island, I feel as though I’ve been there. Ms. Sharma paints beautiful imagery of the allure of the island such as a sky exploding with the majesty of color before the sun rests for another day. She immediately affirms the beauty by balancing the next scene with the whimsical and native dialect of her characters—'children' are ‘chil’ren’ and 'the' is ‘de.’ She describes savory native dishes of goat cheese and meat and mangos so delectably sweet, one can place themselves at the table set and savor the flavor as a direct result of how the scene was written. She touches upon the third world element of a country devoid of modern technologies and fast food restaurants; yet the simplicity is the essence of a silver lining of just being. Ms. Sharma’s voice is distinct throughout this story and she has paid admirable homage, heart and soul to this story because of her heritage. The only criticism I would offer would be the length of the story. While there is terrific pace and cadence for the most part, there were periods when I felt as though the story would drag because Ms. Sharma applied too much description before moving on to the next action. Overall, however, this truly is a beautifully written debut novel. Well done!
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