Portuguese American Journal

Book | Above the Salt – A Novel | By Katherine Vaz – Editor’s Note

John Alves, son of a famous Presbyterian martyr on the Portuguese island of Madeira, spends his childhood in jail and in poverty. When he meets Mary Freitas―though the adopted daughter of a master botanist, her true lineage is the subject of dangerous rumor―a spark kindles a lasting bond. But soon their families must confront the rising blood tide of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. Fleeing with only what they can carry, John and Mary are separated and arrive at different times and places in a rapidly growing and changing mid-nineteenth-century Illinois.

Years later, John settles into his life as an educator at Jacksonville’s nationally renowned school for the deaf, and Mary is a gardener in Springfield for handsome, wealthy Edward Moore. After John and Mary reconnect, the home of rising politician Abraham Lincoln provides a prime setting for their courtship. But conflict looms on the horizon, and John is torn. Should he join the Union army to prove his loyalty to his new country, or should he stay to fight for the chance to make a life with the one he loves?

And should Mary accept Edward’s marriage proposal since he is a partner in her business of selling the miracle-berry fruit she transported from Madeira, or should she choose her passion for John? Social jealousies and betrayals compound the obstacles unleashed by the Civil War.

In poignant and lyrical prose, Katherine Vaz’s Above the Salt is a captivating and beautiful tribute to the power of true love and the sacrifices we make to harness it.


“Vaz’s work is gorgeous at every level―singing sentences and pull-you-in plot. She is the real thing, an American treasure.” ―Tayari Jones, New York Times bestselling author of An American Marriage

“Focus on the Protestant Portuguese’s exile from Madeira… creates a fascinating framework for this episodic yet sweeping literary novel that is equal parts love story and immigrant experience…” ―Booklist

“In lyrical prose, Vaz conveys her characters’ curiosity about the world’s beauty and doles out powerful observations on human nature… Readers will be entranced by this ambitious and heartbreaking saga.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Vaz has written an epic love story, about time and distance and miracles and a fate written in the stars. The writing is astonishing, beautiful; the book impossible to put down.” ―Whitney Otto, author of How To Make an American Quilt

“Above the Salt is a lyrically haunting historical tale of what lovers overcome to manifest their destinies and find their best selves. Set against a backdrop of horticulture, migration, religion, and renewal, Katherine Vaz’s novel sweeps us across decades and seas―from a tiny Portuguese island off the coast of Africa to the sprawling American Midwest―to expertly weave faith, hope, betrayal, and resilience into a story of enduring love.”
―Amina Gautier, author of The Best That You Can Do

“What are our obligations to honor and love? How do we build lives across divides of time and space? Katherine Vaz asks big questions through the rich tapestry of daily life. Above the Salt is a gorgeous, surprising novel, at once intricate and bold.” ―Elizabeth Graver, author of The End of the Point and Kantika

“The first time I ever heard Katherine Vaz read, I remember thinking, Who is this sorceress? as she made me cry in public. Now we have a new novel from her, and the magic has expanded.” ―Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night

“Since the publication of her first novel, Saudade, Katherine Vaz has stood out as a Portuguese American writer uniquely capable of expressing the inchoate longing of the Portuguese soul. Now, with Above the Salt, she becomes the pre-eminent voice of those of us who are part of the vast Portuguese diaspora with this visionary, immigrants’ tale told through her rueful, hallucinogenic prose.” ―Michael Rezendes, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist

About the Author

Katherine Vaz, a former Briggs-Copeland Fellow in Fiction at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is the author of the novels Saudade, on the Discover Great New Writers list with Barnes & Noble, and Mariana, in six languages and optioned by Harrison Productions. Her collection Fado & Other Stories won a Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and Our Lady of the Artichokes & Other Portuguese-American Stories received a Prairie Schooner Book Award. Her fiction has appeared in dozens of magazines, including Tin House, BOMB, Antioch Review, Iowa ReviewThe CommonNarrative, Ninth Letter, and Glimmer Train. She is the first Portuguese-American to have her work recorded for the Archives of the Library of Congress (Hispanic Division).

Related Post

Katherine Vaz: Our Lady of Literature – Interview


Book Details

Author: Katherine Vaz

Title: Above the Salt

Publisher‏: ‎Flatiron Books

Publication Date: November 7, 2023

Language‏: ‎English

Hardcover‏: ‎ 432pp

Available @ Amazon.com




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