Chesapeake Requiem: A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island
(Dey Street, $29)
“Out on Tangier Island, the future isn’t hard to see,” said Jonathan Miles in Garden & Gun. A speck in the Chesapeake Bay that’s been inhabited for more than two centuries, the low-lying Virginia island has lost two-thirds of its land mass to rising waters since 1850, and the roughly 500 deeply rooted residents who live there today know well that their home could be fully submerged within decades. Many don’t believe in human-generated climate change, though they do worry that their community could be among the first in the country forced to find higher ground. But Chesapeake Requiem isn’t focused on climate change. It’s about Tangier itself—“a beautifully peculiar pixel of America” with its own customs, traditions, and sing-song way of speaking. Swift “captures the grain of the place, all its nicks and whorls.”
A reader will meet—“and come to love”—numerous locals, said Stephanie Hanes in CSMonitor.com. Swift lived on the island for most of a year, joining the crabbers, or “watermen,” as they made their predawn rounds to collect the soft-shell crabs and blue crabs that have long been Tangier’s main exports. He hung out with old-timers as they swapped stories over coffee, attended church services and funerals, and befriended the mayor, “Ooker” Eskridge, a waterman who feeds stray cats and still marvels at the beauty of sea birds. Like many in the community, Eskridge is a direct descendant of Tangier’s 1778 settlers and also a believer that erosion, not rising water, threatens the island’s future. He considers man-made climate change a hoax.
Swift handles that consensus view sensitively but firmly, said Steven Ginsberg in The Washington Post. He lets the islanders have their say, but also observes that they do little to address their predicament and instead bemoan the failure of state or federal officials to build a seawall, even as $1.4 billion is poured into restoring a nearby island as a wildlife refuge. Time will tell if outsiders do save Tangier. “If they decide not to, Chesapeake Requiem will have arrived just in time to provide the definitive account of what once was.” ■