Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Review

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a skillfully written fictionalized slave narrative told in Coates' unique voice. It slowly unfolds with details and dialogue that exposes the raw pain, horror, and abuse of the Tasked. Coates also puts on full display the perseverance of enslaved people to hold their own sense of worth and desire for freedom despite their daily pervasive injustices and how it molds who the characters are at their core. Coates made his characters relatable in their dreams, fears, and flaws. There's goodness and selfishness shown in varying degrees in all of them.The one thing that all of the characters seem to share is a desire for full agency over their bodies as well as their destinies.

One of the most impactful things that occurs in the book for me happens to Hiram in the very beginning. With the selling of his mother, this nine year old child with a brilliant memory and ability to remember the tiniest of details is so traumatized by her loss that he can no longer remember what she looks like. He can only conjure her image as a hazy indistinct figure. Hi's memories of her disappear as a means of protecting himself from the pain of her memory. For a child to lose the memories of the person who was the center of his world as a means of self preservation just stole my breath. So yes, my heart was broken within the first twenty pages of the book. 

I'm not going into any more details of this book because this is one I hope people get to go into a little blind so that the experience isn't ruined. This isn't a book that you will fly through in a day. It's a story that demands that you take your time and sit with what Coates is exposing you to. I'm not an avid literary fiction reader, I sometimes find it a burden to slog through what so many consider beautiful prose and artfully woven passages. However, even I can recognize when my reader's heart is touched by a story that is so well written that it won't let me go and The Water Dancer has done just that. It gave me absolutely everything that I expected to get from a writer like Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is a favorite read and I highly recommend it to every reader. 

***I received a finished copy in exchange for an honest review.***

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.


  1. I agree with your assessment - it was well-written and brings forth many issues, an examination of slavery, humanity, and the human condition. It'll make my top reads of 2019 list. Great review!

  2. Thank you, Phyllis! I'm glad that you enjoyed it just as much as I did. :)

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