The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club)

The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club)

Audio CD(Unabridged)

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • From the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

“This potent book about America’s most disgraceful sin establishes [Ta-Nehisi Coates] as a first-rate novelist.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Nearly every paragraph is laced through with dense, gorgeously evocative descriptions of a vanished world and steeped in its own vivid vocabulary.”—Entertainment Weekly

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Praise for The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations.”—Booklist (starred review)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525494843
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/24/2019
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 55,954
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of The Beautiful Struggle, We Were Eight Years in Power, and Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Coates lives in New York City with his wife and son.

Read an Excerpt

And I could only have seen her there on the stone bridge, a dancer wreathed in ghostly blue, because that was the way they would have taken her back when I was young, back when the Virginia earth was still red as brick and red with life, and though there were other bridges spanning the river Goose, they would have bound her and brought her across this one, because this was the bridge that fed into the turnpike that twisted its way through the green hills and down the valley before bending in one direction, and that direction was south.

I had always avoided that bridge, for it was stained with the remembrance of the mothers, uncles, and cousins gone Natchez-way. But knowing now the awesome power of memory, how it can open a blue door from one world to another, how it can move us from mountains to meadows, from green woods to fields caked in snow, knowing now that memory can fold the land like cloth, and knowing, too, how I had pushed my memory of her into the “down there” of my mind, how I forgot, but did not forget, I know now that this story, this Conduction, had to begin there on that fantastic bridge between the land of the living and the land of the lost.

And she was patting juba on the bridge, an earthen jar on her head, a great mist rising from the river below nipping at her bare heels, which pounded the cobblestones, causing her necklace of shells to shake. The earthen jar did not move; it seemed almost a part of her, so that no matter her high knees, no matter her dips and bends, her splaying arms, the jar stayed fixed on her head like a crown. And seeing this incredible feat, I knew that the woman patting juba, wreathed in ghostly blue, was my mother.

No one else saw her—not Maynard, who was then in the back of the new Millennium chaise, not the fancy girl who held him rapt with her wiles, and, most strange, not the horse, though I had been told that horses had a nose for things that stray out from other worlds and stumble into ours. No, only I saw her from the driver’s seat of the chaise, and she was just as they’d described her, just as they’d said she’d been in the olden days when she would leap into a circle of all my people—Aunt Emma, Young P, Honas, and Uncle John—and they would clap, pound their chests, and slap their knees, urging her on in double time, and she would stomp the dirt floor hard, as if crushing a crawling thing under her heel, and bend at the hips and bow, then twist and wind her bent knees in union with her hands, the earthen jar still on her head. My mother was the best dancer at Lockless, that is what they told me, and I remembered this because she’d gifted me with none of it, but more I remembered because it was dancing that brought her to the attention of my father, and thus had brought me to be. And more than that, I remembered because I remembered everything—everything, it seemed, except her.

It was autumn, now, the season when the races came south. That afternoon Maynard had scored on a long-shot thoroughbred, and thought this might, at last, win the esteem of Virginia Quality he sought. But when he made the circuit around the great town square, leaning back, way back in the chaise and grinning large, the men of society turned their back to him and puffed on their cigars. There were no salutes. He was what he would always be—Maynard the Goof, Maynard the Lame, Maynard the Fool, the rotten apple who’d fallen many miles from the tree. He fumed and had me drive to the old house at the edge of our town, Starfall, where he purchased himself a night with a fancy, and had the bright notion to bring her back to the big house at Lockless, and, most fatefully, in a sudden bout of shame, insisted on leaving the back way out of town, down Dumb Silk Road, until it connected to that old turnpike, which led us back to the bank of the river Goose.

A cold steady rain fell as I drove, the water dripping down from the brim of my hat, puddling on my trousers. I could hear Maynard in the back, with all his games, putting his carnal boasts upon the fancy. I was pushing the horse as hard as I could, because all I wanted was to be home and free of Maynard’s voice, though I could never, in this life, be free of him. Maynard who held my chain. Maynard, my brother who was made my master. And I was trying all I could to not hear, searching for distraction—memories of corn-shucking or young games of blind man’s bluff. What I remember is how those distractions never came, but instead there was a sudden silence, erasing not just Maynard’s voice, but all the small sounds of the world around. And now, peering into the pigeonhole of my mind, what I found were remembrances of the lost—men holding strong on watch-night, and women taking their last tour of the apple orchards, spinsters remanding their own gardens to others, old codgers cursing the great house of Lockless. Legions of the lost, brought across that baleful bridge, legions embodied in my dancing mother.

I yanked at the reins but it was too late. We barreled right through and what happened next shook forever my sense of a cosmic order. But I was there and saw it happen, and have since seen a great many things that expose the ends of our knowledge and how much more lies beyond it.

The road beneath the wheels disappeared, and the whole of the bridge fell away, and for a moment I felt myself floating on, or maybe in, the blue light. And it was warm there, and I remember that brief warmth because just as suddenly as I floated out, I was in the water, under the water, and even as I tell you this now, I feel myself back there again, in the icy bite of that river Goose, the water rushing into me, and that particular burning agony that comes only to the drowning.

There is no sensation like drowning, because the feeling is not merely the agony, but a bewilderment at so alien a circumstance. The mind believes that there should be air, since there is always air to be had, and the urge to breathe is such a matter of instinct that it requires a kind of focus to belay the order. Had I leapt from the bridge myself, I could have accounted for my new situation. Had I even fallen over the side, I would have understood, if only because this would have been imaginable. But it was as though I had been shoved out of a window right into the depths of the river. There was no warning. I kept trying to breathe. I remember crying out for breath and more I remember the agony of the answer, the agony of water rushing into me, and how I answered that agony by heaving, which only invited more water.

But somehow I steadied my thoughts, somehow I came to understand that all my thrashing could only but hasten my demise. And with that accomplished, I noted that there was light in one direction and darkness in another and deduced that the dark was the depths and the light was not. I whipped my legs behind me, and stretched out my arms toward the light, pulling the water until, at last, coughing, retching, I surfaced.

And when I came up, breaking through dark water, and into the diorama of the world—storm clouds hung by unseen thread, a red sun pinned low against them, and beneath that sun, hills dusted with grass—I looked back at the stone bridge, which must have been, my God, a half mile away.

The bridge seemed to be almost racing away from me, because the current pulled me along and when I angled myself to swim toward the shore it was that current still, or perhaps some unseen eddy beneath, pulling me downriver. There was no sign of the woman whose time Maynard had so thoughtlessly purchased. But whatever thoughts I had on her behalf were broken by Maynard making himself known, as he had so often, with hue and cry, determined to go out of this world in the selfsame manner that he’d passed through it. He was close by, pulled by the same current. He thrashed in the waves, yelled, treaded a bit, and then disappeared under, only to reappear again seconds later, yelling, half treading, thrashing.

“Help me, Hi!”

There I was, my own life dangling over the black pit, and now being called to save another. I had, on many occasions, tried to teach Maynard to swim, and he took to this instruction as he took to all instruction, careless and remiss at the labor, then sore and bigoted when this negligence bore no fruit. I can now say that slavery murdered him, that slavery made a child of him, and now, dropped into a world where slavery held no sway, Maynard was dead the minute he touched water. I had always been his protection. It was I, only by good humor, and debasement, that had kept Charles Lee from shooting him; and it was I, with special appeal to our father, who’d kept him countless times from wrath; and it was I who clothed him every morning; and I who put him to bed every night; and it was I who now was tired, in both body and soul; and it was I, out there, wrestling against the pull of the current, against the fantastic events that had deposited me there, and now wrestling with the demand that I, once again, save another, when I could not even conjure the energy to save myself.

“Help me!” he yelled again, and then he cried out, “Please!” He said it like the child he always was, begging. And I noted, however uncharitably, even there in the Goose facing my own death, that I had never before recalled him speaking in a manner that reflected the true nature of our positions.

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The Water Dancer: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Anonymous 16 days ago
I didn't want it to end...a captivating story that seemed almost real.
JCNash 11 days ago
The Water Dancer follows the tumultuous life of Hiram Walker, a man born to slavery by his slave mother and white tobacco plantation-owner father. Hiram is gifted with the ability of perfect memory, and maybe something even more extraordinary, and thus becomes a target for involvement in "The Underground," an organization rumored to free black men and woman from "the task" all over Virginia. There is so much in this book to unpack, that I think I would need to read it at least two more times to really feel like I know the book, and that in itself is a strength. Nearly every page, Coates's eloquent writing uncovers a new perspective, a new way of thinking about slavery, about the relationships between the people of the task and the people of quality, about the efforts of those abolitionists that would see slavery destroyed, but perhaps with not the best of intentions. On my first reading, because I will read this book again, I was struck by the personal character development of Hiram, who starts off so young and in many ways naive despite his tasked upbringing, and begins to see that his motives are not everyone's motives. He learns that just because he remembers everything that he's been told does not mean he has listened, that freedom looks different for every person of the task based on their own experiences. Coates brings not just Hiram, but a whole cast of characters to full color through his tale, none of them true heroes (except maybe Harriet Tubman, because of course she is), many of which are part-villian, depending on where you stand in relation to Hiram. I also LOVED that Harriet Tubman appears throughout the narrative as a guiding light for Hiram. Many stories based on slavery would not dare to bring an actual historical figure into a purely fictional, sometimes fantastical setting, but Coates does this in away that is both entertaining and respectful of the history. My only criticisms is that at times I struggled with the pacing of the novel, and occasionally the prose felt repetitive, but given how much there is to love about this novel (which I could not even fully go into in the space I have here) I'm happy to excuse a few lulls. This is the kind of novel that can be studied, that can be picked through over and over for new gems and new layers of insight, should you be up to the challenge. Thank you Netgalley and One World Press for my free review copy of this novel. All opinions are my own.
ElleRudy 23 days ago
In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, he wrote on the idea of serious writers and their characters being white. Classic literature has been taught to us as historically being by white men about white culture, where other perspectives are interpreted as inferior. At one point, Coates considered a question by Saul Bellow that asks who the Tolstoy of the Zulus is. Later, he accepted the response by Ralph Wiley, “Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus,” and in that sentiment affirmed that stories by black authors about black characters matter just as much as white ones, but without reducing them to merely a ‘black version’ of their counterparts. Though he’s written both Black Panther and Captain America’s comic series, this is Coates’ first full-length fictional work. Taking place during the middle of the 19th century, Hiram is a member of the Tasked in Virginia. He serves the Quality until he attempts to join the Underground and discovers the power of Conduction. The terms used are intuitive and historical, stemming from language used in the old south by both slaveholders and those enslaved. Most characters are created by the author, but historical locations, events and figures are skillfully interwoven with the magical realism of the novel to create a truly remarkable story. Coates is a talented writer, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his. But, the beginning especially, was pretty slow going. Eventually the plot picks up a bit, but there were so many breaks in the story where Hiram would reflect deeply, and he felt like a stand-in for the author to have yet another introspection. These ideas seem to work so much better in Coates’ non-fiction books, but at times took away from the overall narrative he was trying to tell here. The book could have been much shorter without taking away anything crucial. I did enjoy it overall, though, and this was an excellent debut novel for an already very accomplished author.
Anonymous 10 days ago
This is a book to savour, with it's striking language and descriptions. The back story on each character led me deep into the era and minds of the societies of those times. Wonderfully revealing, it actually gives hope to our current social and political situations.
Shobizreads 15 days ago
I was lucky enough to get an arc of The Water Dancer through Netgalley. When I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing a fiction book, I knew I had to read it. I purposefully didn't read a synopsis ahead of time as I like to go in with as few expectations as possible. So, I was surprised that it employed magical realism and for me, that was sometimes a struggle as that is not an easy genre for me. This story is about slavery and is told from the point of view of an orphaned male slave who was born to a slave mother and a white plantation owner in Virginia. We see complicated dynamics of his relationship with his father, his white half-brother (who he serves) and others in Virginia society including other slaves, free men and whites. The themes of exploring the slave narrative, the complicated rules and scenarios they had to navigate with little to no control and what was acceptable behavior is rich, nuanced and thought-provoking. The writing style employs both flashbacks and magical realism, so several times, I had to go back and re-read a few pages to make sure I was understanding what was going on as the language itself employed in the book was reminiscent of the time period and therefore, not what I'm use to reading either. The story was compelling and the first half moved a little slowly for me, but once I was invested in the characters and understanding the story more readily, I couldn't put it down. This was not a book that I could have devoured in 1 or 2 sittings, instead I read it over my entire vacation week, taking time to think through and immerse myself in the time period and in the character's voice. I prefer more of a straight up historical fiction retelling without fantasy elements, but if you loved The Underground Railroad, this is probably right up your ally. And if you haven't read that or didn't love it, I would say that this is an important read and worth fighting through if it feels complicated or difficult. As a white person, I didn't grow up reading narratives from other cultures and as an adult reader, I try to include diverse authors as much as possible - so that I can struggle through trying to relate to another culture, seeing things through their cultural lens, listen to their stories and continue to develop empathy
Anonymous 17 days ago
I went in to this knowing the topics were ones that would be difficult to read. I've read many of Coates' previous work in The Atlantic and he has always been able to write about such topics in a way that you are able to understand the deep emotions involved with out being too overwhelmed. He's done it again with The Water Dancer. This book was masterfully written and really allows you to learn about the psychological implications and affects slavery had and continues to have on the black community. I don't have any personal experience with this and I don't know nearly enough about the topic, only what was taught in school, so this book was an eye-opener in a lot of ways.
LionessofLiteracy 18 days ago
The water dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates This is a vivid and beautiful piece of artistry and I tip my hat to the author. I really loved the slave narrative and how it really shaped the whole book. It takes place, for the most part, in Virginia at a plantation called Lockless. The story centres around Hiram , he remembers almost nothing of his mother and he is the black son of the plantation owner., fairly common back in those days. He also possesses a memory like you wouldn’t believe, and another talent that I won’t spoil because, believe me, you need to read this book. This story will captivate you and pull your right into a life of slave brutality, devastating losses and the death of ones self. The book is so powerfully written that I’m going to need a few days to digest what I read and then read the whole thing again. I know the author usually writes non-fiction but I had never heard of them before. I don’t read non-fiction either but I’m actually quite tempted to give this author a shot. The slaves are aptly named the tasked, and they crave so much more than they have. They yearn for freedom, and to feel part of the world that has little care for them. Freedom comes from an unusual place, and a little magical realism is played here. The characters, really bring to the light the struggles and the heartaches that come from being so disenfranchised and low ranking in a world they don’t really understand. I adored the pace of the novel. I never found it slow and I really was quite heart torn watching their stories unfold. If you love a little heartbreak in your novels and profound determination then this is the novel for you. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was and I really am blown away by the imagination and realism that was bought to life in these pages. I have 4 words to say….. GO BUY IT NOW! #thewaterdancer
Anonymous 10 hours ago
This has been one of the best novel's I've read in a long time!
Anonymous 4 days ago
I couldn't put this book down! The attention to detail wove a insightful tale!
Anonymous 5 days ago
Interesting read
Anonymous 5 days ago
A great read
tradeoff 8 days ago
Quite simply, one of the most compelling novels of this or any year. Coates' firstforay in to fictikon has all the strength, complexityh, craft and emotional engagement of his prevkiously lauded nonfiction. Hiram Walker, who was Tasked to the plantation owned by his own father, is a young man of singjular talent, and even when this otherwise grimly realistic novel of Virginia plantations before the Civil War veers in to magic realism to explain Hirawm's inherited gift for making memories come to life, it doesn't seem like fiction. Together with Colson Whitehead's novel, the Nickel Boys, a portrait of our blood-spattered hbistorical past emerges that cannot be forgotten.
Anonymous 11 days ago
Very creative writing language but needs more action and better magic system building. There were good plot opportunities to build characters and storyline that were missed. It's not easy transitioning from one genre to another. Hat's off to the author for trying to mix American history, romance, and fantasy.
Anonymous 15 days ago
Very good book, Excellent Read
Nabanita 15 days ago
Nice book
Anonymous 19 days ago
What an amazing debut novel for Ta-Nehisis Coates! I did little else while reading this. A unique telling of slavery and the Underground Railroad that captures the imagination, grabs your heart, steals your breath and kidnaps your emotions. Loved it! I anticipate a bestseller status for the beautifully imagined and elegantly written novel.
bamcooks 19 days ago
*4.5 stars rounded up. I've read several novels on the subject of American slavery and the Underground Railroad. So what sets this one apart and makes it special? It's the touch of magical realism that Coates utilizes. What makes it a great book is the high quality of language, the complexity of theme, the depth of feeling. This is a book to be read slowly and savored. I won't soon forget these characters. I've previously read Coates' non-fiction books Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, and rated both 5 stars, so I guess you could say I'm a fan of his writing. So happy to see his first venture into fiction resulted in such a remarkable story. Congratulations are in order. I was fortunate to receive an arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for my honest review. Many thanks!
labmom55 19 days ago
This book grabbed me from its first pages and never let me go. Hiram Walker is the son of a plantation owner. But he’s the black son, born to a slave and thus a slave himself. His mother was sold “Natchez way” when he was 9. After a near death experience as a young man, he plots to escape. Despite having a photographic memory, Hiram has lost his memories of his mother. It’s a literary device that really captures the loss of a family member to slavery . This book is so beautifully written it takes your breath away in much the same way that the near drowning takes Hiram’s. It truly captures the horrors of slavery. I loved his use of words. Not slave and owner. But Tasked and Quality. Even the whites are designated as Quality or Low. “Bored whites were barbarian whites. While they played at aristocrats, we were their well-appointed and stoic attendants. But when they tired of dignity, the bottom fell out. New games were anointed and we were but the pieces on the board. It was terrifying. There was no limit to what they might do at this end of the tether, nor what my father would allow them to do.” As can be expected, Hi is infuriated. He’s the smart one while is white half brother is a dullard, gambling away what’s left of the family fortune. Coates spells out for us the incredible suffering of being a slave. And he’s not talking physical suffering but the mental suffering of never being able to express yourself or allow yourself natural wants like a loving relationship. Coates uses magical realism as a plot device. It becomes a larger and larger part of the story as the book goes on. I struggled with this, more so when a well known historical character is given a certain mythical power. Similar to The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, one has to be willing to suspend belief. My other quibble is that he doesn’t set us firmly in time or place. We know that Virginia is in decline, the soil exhausted from years of tobacco. But I couldn’t tell how far before the Civil War we were. Or where in Virginia we were as there is no Goose River, Elm County or Brycetown. This is a pet peeve of mine and just a few sentences could have cleared things up. This is not a fast read. It needs to be pondered. I do feel it started much stronger than it finished. But it’s a very meaningful read and I would recommend it. My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book
PattySmith87 20 days ago
Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group and Ta-Nehisi Coates for an ARC in exchange for an honest book review of The Water Dancer. My opinions and thoughts are 100% my own and independent of receiving an advance copy. This is a unique magical book that takes you on a journey. It is going to be hard for me to describe it or at least do it justice. It was really an experience reading it. There is a concrete story and mixed in is magical realism. I am looking forward to hearing the discussions around this book. Oprah has named it her first pick for her new book club on the Apple platform. This isn’t something I normally join, but there is so much to unpack with this story, I would appreciate other people’s perspective, more than just reading people’s reviews. Coates is a very talented writer, as proven in all of his writings. This is his first fiction novel and I certainly hope it isn’t his last. His writing is powerful. At first, I had a hard time understanding what was happening. There were words I didn’t understand, phrases I couldn’t comprehend. I have read lots of novels depicting the slave experience but nothing like this. He uses terms like “The Quality” for slave masters and “The Tasked” for slaves. He talks about how the tasked go “The Natchez way”. It took some getting used to but eventually, things came together. I think one of the reasons it is so powerful is the beauty of the prose juxtaposed with the horrors of slavery. This is the type of book that stays with you. It is hard to shake. You keep coming back to it, reflecting on it. I didn’t want to rush through, I wanted to be present. For those skeptical of the magical realism, don’t be. It doesn’t make the book “woo-woo” or take the seriousness away from the subject matter. I have heard some call it science fiction, it isn’t. I highly recommend this book. This is a special one.
Anonymous 21 days ago
Anonymous 23 days ago
Outstanding historical novel by one of our greatest contemporary writers. Magical realism and lyrical writing bring a unique perspective to a horrific time in our nation's history. The novel follows Hiram, born into slavery, the son of a slave and the "master" of the plantation. Outstanding characters explore generational trauma and what it means to be "free." Hiram has a special gift, referred to as "conduction," which enables him to become a valuable agent for the Underground Railroad. I really loved this book, beginning to end, and I highly recommend it. ***I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***
lostinagoodbook 23 days ago
I feel ill-equipped to convey how important I think this book is and will become. I’m going to put it up there with Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and Kindred by Octavia Butler. Hmm, interesting, it wasn’t until after I wrote that list that I realized all three are books about slavery with a fantasy twist to them. Yep, they all belong to the same sub-genre, but they also share more than that. This book deserves to be on the same shelf as those (what I consider to be) classics. There is a depth and beauty to Mr. Coates’ writing. He speaks so many hard truths in this book that are emotionally trying to read, but it’s impossible to put down. He writes with a real clarity of self awareness and empathy. Delving delves into the complicated relationships between slave and owner, particularly when an owner is also a member of their immediate family. He writes unflinchingly about the torment inflicted on slaves, both physical and emotional, as well as the weight of freedom once it is achieved. The guilt, fear and a feeling of obligation to those left behind in torment. He writes from a man’s viewpoint but takes the time to illuminate the particular difficulties of being a woman at this time in history. It really is a remarkable, honest, breathtaking book. I know that it will be well received, and take its place among the great works of African American literature. Video for this book: Oprah Winfrey talks Book Club pick with Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Water Dancer” Disclaimer: I received this book free from Netgalley
jdowell 23 days ago
Absolutely beautiful, enchanting prose while relaying the deplorable horrors of slavery. The story follows Hiram's (Hi's) life from the time his mother was sold through the time he became what he was meant to be. Magical realism with its roots in Africa gives the story a paranormal twist that is fascinating. This is a powerful story and Coates makes the characters come alive. It's really hard to believe this is a first fiction attempt for the author. It is so beautifully written and carries the reader into the story and the characters are so well drawn you feel you know them. Kudos to Coates! Thanks to Random House Publishing Group through Netgalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
DeediReads 23 days ago
The Water Dancer reads like a classic — weighty, important, immersive. It’s also incredibly creative. What Coates does with Harriet Tubman as a human legend and with the language of the underground railroad is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The story is told from the first-person perspective of Hiram, although you can tell he’s speaking from the future, looking back on these parts of his life and telling the story of what happened. He is a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation. The story begins from a point of action — Hiram’s horse and cart fall into the river and he nearly drowns — and then spins back to his childhood, just after his mother was sold. Something strange happens to him in both instances — the story’s element of magical realism. Later in his life, Hiram joins “the Underground” and begins learning the art of “conduction.” He journeys back and forth, up and down the coast, finding his purpose, clarifying his own values, and making his mark on the world — big and small. It’s not an easy life that he narrates for us, but it’s incredibly introspective. That’s what really sets this story apart from others I’ve read on the topic / era — this is about the systems, yes, but it’s even more about the people inside them (good and bad) and the sort of gray lines that exist when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I thought the story moved a little slowly, which is why this wasn’t a 5-star book for me. But it really did feel like a classic — you know, how they aren’t always the most engaging books, but they are engaging enough, and they are also the most important books. That’s how this one felt to me. I remain most impressed by Coates’s use of magical realism — when it’s done right, magical realism calls attention to a real-world thing, rather than to itself. It’s not the point of the story; it helps you see the point more clearly. This is what he’s done so masterfully here. And it’s fantastic.
miareese 24 days ago
I don't think my opinion is really needed in this space, but I will say that I thought this was beautifully written and that I love Coates' voice.