The Water Dancerby Published 24 Sep 2019
|The Water Dancer.pdf|
In his boldly imagined first novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, brings home the most intimate evil of enslavement: the cleaving and separation of families.
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 utopic 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.
The Water Dancer Reviews
Who is The Water Dancer ? Early on in this lyrical tale we see images of black women dancing with jugs of water perched upon their heads, moving to release the tensions of their lives and celebrate the sense of family and community they share with one another despite their circumstances. It isn’t until much later that we see another water dancer, a true historical figure, and then, finally, another. He is the book’s central character, Hiram Walker.
Hiram “Hi” Walker is a child when we first meet him, and all is revealed through his eyes, thoughts, and emotions. He shows us the unspeakable cruelties of slavery. He refers to as himself and his fellow slaves as “the Tasked.” The oppressors he calls “Quality.” Other whites who do not own slaves are the “Low.” As the illegitimate biracial son of the estate owner, he moves between the two worlds, yet he has no power, no freedom. I had never before read any work by Coates, and I was enthralled. He writes with so much care and attention. Intention. The plantation is called Lockless. The Deep South, where slavery rules, is “the Coffin.” The slave quarters are “the Street.” There is a key figure called “Moses.”
As Hiram’s life changes, so does he. The people he meets, the challenges he masters, and the relationships he forges morph him from a boy into a man. At one point, Hi states that to task is to wear a mask. Being with folks in the Underground helped him find his true self and made him feel like he was with family. The Water Dancer may be set in the 1800s with at least one real historical figure, but it is so much more than historical fiction. It is filled with allegory and symbolism. It is a tale of struggle to overcome cruelty and bondage. It is the saga of humanity’s thirst for freedom and equality. It is also about hope, because despite the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment, this book is filled with dreams for a better future. There is so much pain and suffering, but there is also love and joy. There are so many memorable characters, Task, Quality, and free. Some are good-hearted. Some are not. All are part of Hiram Walker’s story.
This book brought me to tears. Tears for what so many suffered. Tears for the injustices now in our country, at our border, and throughout the world.
When Hiram’s mother was sold, his memories of her were stolen along with her. In order to reach his full potential, Hiram must retrieve and face his deepest, most painful memories. This is where Ta-Nehisi Coates truly shines. He paints several amazing scenes to prepare us for that final moment. The imagery is simple, yet creative and tremendously powerful.
I wonder if Mr. Coates is challenging us all to face our deepest fears as individuals and as a nation so that we can shake off the chains that restrain us and become freer, more loving, and more generous. Hiram Walker is a very well spoken young man with beautiful heart and soul. We should listen to his story with our whole beings. It is not a swift, easy read, but it is a wondrous piece of literature.
My thanks to NetGalley, One World, and the author for this ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.
3.5 stars rounded up to 4
Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review
If you've never experienced the beautiful magic of Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing, it's time to add him to your TBR. In his first steps into fiction, Coates brings us the tale of Hiram(Hi) Walker, a slave on a Virginia plantation in the mid-1800's. With little to no memory of his mother and the property of his white father, the owner of the plantation, Hiram soon finds himself called to the big house to serve his half brother Maynard. As the boys grow, an incident will occur that will show Hiram his true inheritance and set him on a path towards freedom.
I read this one at a fairly slow pace. A choice I made on purpose because of the seriousness of the subject matter. Coates shows the brutality of slavery, the dehumanizing nature in which people were "Tasked" and if they misbehaved or tried to escape were sold and sent "Natchez way."
A novel that I eagerly anticipated and one which I hope many will pick up and join the conversation.
Goodreads review published 02/09/19
Publication Date 24/09/19
Review to come!
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"...the story of America's oldest struggle-the struggle to tell the truth..."
This sounds so good, I can't believe it isn't on more people's radar!