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I received a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates The Water Dancer through Net­Gal­ley for review pur­pos­es. As always, this review reflects only my hon­est thoughts on the book.

The Water Dancer
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Pub­li­ca­tion Date: 24 Sep­tem­ber 2019
Pub­lish­er: One World (Pen­guin Ran­dom House)
Kin­dle; 407 Pages

Genre: His­tor­i­cal Fiction/Magical Realism

 

 

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.

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My Review

If you were intro­duced to me through poet­ry (I imag­ine that’s the most like­ly way you’d end up here!), you might not be aware of my back­ground in his­to­ry (at least beyond Boleyn), par­tic­u­lar­ly of the Amer­i­can Civ­il War. With triple minors in His­to­ry, Civ­il War Era Stud­ies, and Pub­lic His­to­ry as an under­grad, I spent count­less hours study­ing slav­ery and all that came with it. But I nev­er expe­ri­enced those sto­ries in any way like this.

I’d long since been aware of Ta-Nehisi Coates, at least in the non­fic­tion realm. His Between the World and Me (2015) topped the NYT Best­sellers’ list dur­ing my book­store “career,” but I had­n’t had the chance to read it myself. I spot­ted The Water Dancer on Net­Gal­ley and, with­out much back­ground, knew that this was my chance to expe­ri­ence the work of a writer every had been (right­ful­ly) talk­ing about.

This nov­el took me a while to get through, in part because I read a major­i­ty of it through the chaos of 2020. But I’m almost glad to have tak­en so long with it—this gave me the chance to savour every scene, every line, every word of this pow­er­ful book.

It’s been months since I fin­ished read­ing The Water Dancer. And yet, I think about it often. This nov­el brings mag­ic to a world that, for me, was almost painful­ly aca­d­e­m­ic. It brought Hiram’s sto­ry to life. Even Har­ri­et Tub­man came alive in these pages, radi­at­ing with the fan­tas­ti­cal blue light.

In The Water Dancer, Coates cre­ates an hon­est-to-god mas­ter­piece. This book rein­vents the pow­er of mem­o­ry and tran­scends real­i­ty with incred­i­ble depth. Made all the more preva­lent by 2020’s resur­gence of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, The Water Dancer puts a sort of myth­i­cal spin on his­to­ry, even as the sto­ry speaks to the present.

It prob­a­bly won’t come as a sur­prise that I plan to pick up Between the World and Me as soon as I can, if not Coates’ entire body of work. Even out­side of this fic­tion debut, I have no doubt I’m in for a treat of beau­ti­ful lan­guage and pow­er­ful stories.

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About the Author

Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the #1 New York Times best­seller Between the World and Me, a final­ist for the Nation­al Book Award. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” fel­low, Coates has received the Nation­al Mag­a­zine Award, the Hill­man Prize for Opin­ion and Analy­sis Jour­nal­ism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cov­er sto­ry “The Case for Repa­ra­tions.” He lives in New York with his wife and son.

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