At long last, someone has finally gotten it right. In Chesapeake Requiem, author Earl Swift masterfully reveals Tangier as it is — a proud but struggling community of fewer than 500 people trying to hold on to what they can amid unending hardship and isolation ... Though Chesapeake Requiem is cast as something of a Hillbilly Elegy for this seaside attraction, Swift makes a compelling case that the story of Tangier is far more consequential: It is probably the first community in America that will be entirely wiped away by climate change ... The result is an intimate, meticulously reported and captivating account of life on the island.
Tangier Island, a dwindling pancake of land surrounded by the unruly waters of the Chesapeake Bay, has long existed as a curiosity for mainlanders ... Swift not only weaves a masterful narrative of place, people, and nature, supported by the best sort of on-the-ground, in-depth journalistic reporting. He goes further, bringing to the fore the nuance and ambiguity of Tangier, and the environmental crisis it confronts. In his hands, the erosion tearing at Tangier takes on more than its ecological meaning and becomes, as imperceptibly and definitely as the waves eating into the shoreline, a story about all of us ... Swift does what only the best environmental writers can do. He reveals the complications and multiple storylines that underly an environmental crisis. And he builds compassion and connection, if not complete understanding, between readers and those who see the world quite differently.
As could probably be predicted from his extensive writing history, he's a first-rate observer, well able to portray pathos without sentimentality. He follows the people of Tangier Island through the various minutiae of their daily lives, bringing their humanity to life at every turn. And he fore-grounds his narrative with a succinct description of the torturous genesis of the blue crabs that form the basis of the areas entire economy ... It was the locational bedrock of Tangier Island's economy, but it's largely irrelevant if Tangier Island isn't there anymore. The blue crab industry in the Chesapeake will continue, but as Chesapeake Requiem makes eloquently, heartbreakingly clear, it will continue without Tangier Island.