Book Review: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

About the Book:

Title: The Water Dancer

Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Publisher: One World

Publication Date: September 24th, 2019

Genres: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Pages: 406

Rating: 4/5

ISBN: 0399590595 (ISBN13: 9780399590597)

 


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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.


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I would like to thank Penguin Random House International for providing a review copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


 

This is my first time reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work, and I can say that I enjoyed it. I am fond of reading historical fiction, especially with those stories that are powerful just like this one. Touch with magical realism, The Water Dancer is a powerful novel. That’s why I was not surprised at all when Oprah’s Book Club picked this beautiful novel.

The story follows the life of Hiram “Hi” Walker. He is a biracial son of Howell Walker, a plantation owner in Virginia. Howell sold Hiram’s mother when he was just 9 years old. The trauma and hurt of this incident resulted in Hiram’s difficulty in recollecting memories of his own mother despite the ability to remember everything. After a terrible accident which costed almost Hiram’s life, he discovered a unique ability that would change his life.

When I started this novel, I was completely mesmerized by how poetic and lyrical the narrative was. The plot started strongly; it showed a tragic event that I could say is the turning point of Hiram’s life. My heart ached and raged as I followed Hiram’s journey. I’ve read some books that dealt with this kind of theme, but The Water Dancer hit me most emotionally among them. This novel captured the horrors of slavery; how it cut ties family and friendships and how it left deep wounds that each person had to carry for the rest of their lives. However, despite all those unpleasant things, this novel also radiates hope and love. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the pacing of this book is slow, maybe because of the seriousness of the tone and mood of the novel.

I really admire Hiram’s character. He’s smart and understanding even at a very young age. I felt his suffering. Even when he’s not talking about pain physically, I can feel the mental and emotional pain he carried. I sympathized whenever he talked about not being able to express himself and the unfairness he had to go through.

After finishing this book, this left me pondering how much I understand life in general such as how every decision we make ripples and affects others without us knowing, how the relationships and feelings we develop change as we mature, and how the experiences, both good and bad, mold us to become the person we are now.

Overall, The Water Dancer is a beautifully written novel that deals with heavy themes and topics, but its magical elements give an atmosphere of hope that we shouldn’t lose within ourselves. I recommend this book!

4/5 stars!


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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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