Trouble the Water by Rebecca Dwight Bruff

trouble the water cover


“Before this decisive night, I’d not fully appreciated the subtle line between inspiration and insanity. But now, with all our lives at risk, I found myself navigating that most perilous edge . . . “ 

Based on a true story about risking everything for freedom, Trouble the Water navigates the rich tributaries of courage, family, betrayal, faith, forgiveness, and redemption. Robert Smalls — born enslaved and witness to both great privilege and great suffering–grows up alongside his owner’s daughter and the dangerous son of a firebrand secessionist. At the age of 12, he’s sent to work in Charleston, where he loads ships and learns to pilot a cotton steamer. When the Civil War erupts and the cotton steamer becomes a confederate warship, he seizes a high-risk opportunity to pursue freedom for himself and the woman and children he loves.  After the war ended Smalls was able to purchase the house in which he and his mother had been enslaved, and he became one of America’s first black legislators. His courage, thirst for knowledge, and compassion ultimately changed the lives of untold others, including making SC the first state to legislate public education for all. 


From his illiterate childhood to his thrilling escape to freedom, from his work to make South Carolina the first state to guarantee public education to his final days on the porch of his family home, Trouble the Water will thrill history lovers, biographical fiction fans, and book group members who appreciate exciting fiction based on the lives of real people. If you liked Invention of Wings, My Name is Mary Sutter, and The Kitchen House, you’ll want to read this.



About the Author:


Rebecca Bruff heard the story of Robert Smalls on her first visit to South Carolina. She was so captivated that she left her job and moved across the country to research and write this novel. Bruff earned her Bachelors degree in education (Texas A&M) and Master and Doctorate degrees in theology (Southern Methodist University). In 2017, she was a scholarship recipient for the prestigious Key West Literary Seminar. She volunteers at the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina. She’s published non-fiction, plays a little tennis, travels when she can, and loves life in the lowcountry with her husband and an exuberant golden retriever.





In her brilliant new novel, Trouble the Water, Rebecca Bruff skillfully uncovers an American odyssey, long lost in the camouflage of history.  It is the unlikely journey of Robert Smalls, born a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina.  While suffering the heartache and horrid indignities of chattel slavery, Smalls dreams of freedom for himself and his family.  In what has to be one of the most daring and nail-biting  escapes ever attempted in the low country, Smalls succeeds in changing the lives of many while becoming a Civil War hero and a paragon of civic leadership.  Bruff gifts her readers a gripping, heartrending and at last, inspirational narrative, a testimony to the triumph of the human spirit, not soon to be forgotten.    


-Jeffrey Blount, award-winning author of two novels,  Almost Snow White, winner of the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and Hating Heidi Foster, winner of the 2013 Readers Favorite Book Award for young adult literature, and Emmy award-winning television director and a 2016 inductee to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

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