The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published by One World on September 24th, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
“I simply told myself this thing that must become my truth. I am free.”
*ARC received by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is collectively the world’s most anticipated release of 2019. How can anyone not be excited to read Coates’ first fiction novel?!
In The Water Dancer, young Hiram Walker is born into bondage. After his mother was sold, Hiram lost all memory of her, but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, that same power saves his life. And this brush with death manifests a burning urgency in Hiram to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
If you’ve read Coates’ non-fiction work before then you know what an incredible writer he is. I was very curious to see how his debut fiction novel would turn out. And it is easily as good and as powerful as his other work. When you’re reading his work, there’s a feeling that every word is so deliberately chosen to convey emotions, actions, and environments in the story.
It’s obviously about a very serious subject matter, which makes it hard to read through. Coates doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of slavery, the breaking up of families as family members are sold off, the effect on those taken, and those left behind. And this trauma of these losses have a huge affect on memories. This is where the element of magical realism comes in.
Coates writes with tender compassion for his characters. He forces his characters, particularly Hiram, to remember not only remember but to move beyond the pain associated with these memories.
I go back and forth on whether or not I appreciated the magical realism part of the story. Normally, I’m a huge fan of magical realism. But I found that this time it took me out of the story a little bit. I understand that it’s used as a portrayal of how our memories and experiences hold onto us and how they guide us in our future, but at time it confused me. I had to stop and get out of the story to think about it.
However, I will say that the magical element manages to create a beautiful atmosphere that’s hopeful. It does help to balance out the overall atmosphere.
I’ve read a lot of people online comparing this to Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad because both have “experimental” aspects to them. But I do think The Water Dancer is a much more engaging read.