In a search for answers, debut author Amy
K. Sorrells set out to retell the story of Tamar from the book of Second Samuel
in her novel
How Sweet the Sound
(David C. Cook). It’s the story of one family wrecked with secrets, set in
Alabama and told from the eyes of 13-year-old.
THIS NOVEL IS INSPIRED BY THE OLD TESTAMENT STORY OF TAMAR. MANY PEOPLE ARE PROBABLY NOT FAMILIAR WITH IT. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW THE STORY INSPIRED YOUR VERSION AND WHAT THEMES ARE PARALLEL BETWEEN THE TWO?
I remember the moment
precisely when the story of How Sweet the
Sound was born. The day was sunny and warm, and I was sitting on my back
patio searching the scriptures for what God had to say about survivors of
sexual abuse and assault. I knew what He had to say about brokenness and His
desire for healing and freedom overall, but I yearned for something specific
about this silent and pervasive epidemic. I read through II Samuel 13, where
King David’s daughter, Tamar, is raped by her half brother, Amnon, and
afterwards, her other brother, Absalom, kills Amnon out of revenge. Verse 20,
however, stopped me in my tracks:
“Her brother Absalom said to
her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister;
he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her
brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.” (II Sam. 13:20)
“Be quiet for now, my
“Don’t take this thing to
“Tamar lived … a desolate
Are you kidding me, God? How could this be?Where is the justice? Where
is the healing? Where is the freedom You promise in places like Isaiah chapter
61 for someone like Tamar?
More than that, I was struck
with the realization that this is how many rape, incest and molestation victims
are treated today. Research and testimony after testimony from survivors reveal
a society and family systems that urge victims to hush, keep quiet, “get over
it, it was no big deal.” And yet, sexual assault is one of—if not the
most—devastating trauma a person can suffer, leaving lifelong, even
generational dysfunction, physical and psychiatric problems.
I knew then that the Abba I
know and who rescued me, does not want the story of Tamar to end there. And so, I set out to tell the story
again, only in my own words, in a more recent time, in a universal and
relatable way, so that if someone who’s suffered like Tamar can know her life
is not meant for silence and desolation. Her life is meant for joy and hope and
How Sweet the Sound is not an
exact allegory, but readers will notice the parallels between the enabling
parent and King David, as well as the character Comfort who represents Tamar.
Moreover, the story is told primarily through the eyes of the 13-year-old
niece, Anniston. I did this purposefully, to pull the story back a bit to make
it readable, and not so triggering, to survivors.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SET THE STORY IN ALABAMA?
For over twenty years now, my family has vacationed along the
gulf coast of Alabama and Florida. Few, if any, regions offer such a deep
history of brokenness and redemption, sultry days and mysterious nights, placid
bayous and ferocious, unpredictable weather. When combined with the inspiration
for my work that writers like Sue Monk Kidd, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner
have provided, I can’t think of any other other place How Sweet the Sound could’ve been set, can you?
ALL OF THE EVENTS IN YOUR NOVEL SURROUND THIS ONE FAMILY. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE HARLANS?
Though I didn’t set out for them to be, by the end of the
book I realized the Harlan family is everyone’s family. They’re respectable,
even admirable on the outside. But behind closed doors, great wounds and
secrets fester, running deep and unchanging through generations unwilling to
acknowledge the need to change and heal. But like the pecan trees in the Harlan
family orchards, eventually the seasons call us to change and grow, and we all
can, with Abba’s grace, if we’re willing.
THIS BOOK HAS RECEIVED A LOT OF PRAISE ALREADY. HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED BY ITS RECEPTION?
Few, if any, writers and artists release their work into the
world without a bit of terror and the feeling that they could’ve and indeed
should’ve done some pieces of it better. So yes, I’m surprised. I’ve always
said if I can bring hope to just one reader, I’ll have succeeded. Any sort of
positive reception beyond that is more than I could’ve asked for or imagined.
THIS IS A DEBUT NOVEL, BUT FEW WRITERS ARE OVERNIGHT SUCCESS STORIES. CAN YOU SHARE YOUR PATH TO PUBLICATION?
My official pursuit of traditional publication began after my
youngest son went off to elementary school, and I had a bit more time to
research what I needed to do to make that happen. That was eight years, nearly
thirty queries and rejections, three different agents, one major writing
contest award, half-a-dozen publishing house rejections, and three years of
macro edits, copy edits, and line edits ago. I’m exhausted, giddy, and a little
more off-my rocker than I was before, but it’s all worth it. To all you writers
out there, I say don’t ever give up. There were many times I wanted to, but I
kept going, and you can too.