Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island

by Earl Swift

Hardcover, 2018

Call number

639.56 SWI



Dey Street Books (2018), Edition: 1st Edition, 448 pages


Tangier Island, Virginia, is a community unique on the American landscape. Mapped by John Smith in 1608, settled during the American Revolution, the tiny sliver of mud is home to 470 hardy people who live an isolated and challenging existence, with one foot in the 21st century and another in times long passed. They are separated from their countrymen by the nation's largest estuary, and a twelve-mile boat trip across often tempestuous water--the same water that for generations has made Tangier's fleet of small fishing boats a chief source for the rightly prized Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and has lent the island its claim to fame as the softshell crab capital of the world. Yet for all of its long history, and despite its tenacity, Tangier is disappearing. The very water that has long sustained it is erasing the island day by day, wave by wave. It has lost two-thirds of its land since 1850, and still its shoreline retreats by fifteen feet a year--meaning this storied place will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change. Experts reckon that, barring heroic intervention by the federal government, islanders could be forced to abandon their home within twenty-five years. Meanwhile, the graves of their forebears are being sprung open by encroaching tides, and the conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen ponder the end times. Chesapeake Requiem is an intimate look at the island's past, present and tenuous future, by an acclaimed journalist who spent much of the past two years living among Tangier's people, crabbing and oystering with its watermen, and observing its long traditions and odd ways. What emerges is the poignant tale of a world that has, quite nearly, gone by--and a leading-edge report on the coming fate of countless coastal communities.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member alexezell
Swift details the history and current existence of a slice of American life that is largely invisible and will soon become even more so. What's interesting is how deftly Swift walks the line between showing how climate change is a large part of the issues that Tangier Island faces but doesn't chastise or condescend to the people of Tangier who generally don't see it in quite the same way.

There are beautiful descriptions of life on the water. There are in-depth details about the lifestyle of crabs. There are repeated details about the many familial connections between the people of the island. All of this doesn't add up quite as well as I'd hoped. It becomes repetitious through the middle of the book to the point that I couldn't sustain my interest. There wasn't enough of a sense of where the story was going or how these people might actually start to make changes in their lives. I might pick it back up from the library and flip to the last chapter or two to see how things wrapped up.
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