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The Water Dancer

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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 un 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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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 un 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.

30 review for The Water Dancer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nilufer Ozmekik

    I’m giving those stars in shame, hands shaking as I push them to the key board and clicked: 3 shiny stars. Then I started to run away, dropping down my phone as if someone gave me a daily chore to clean up the entire house and I’m escaping from secret big hole at my wall hid behind Rita Hayworth poster. (That’s my shawshanking glory run, my dear friends) When I started this book and captivated by those lyrical, emotional, poetic, amazing words created its own magic, I thought I was f I’m giving those stars in shame, hands shaking as I push them to the key board and clicked: 3 shiny stars. Then I started to run away, dropping down my phone as if someone gave me a daily chore to clean up the entire house and I’m escaping from secret big hole at my wall hid behind Rita Hayworth poster. (That’s my shawshanking glory run, my dear friends) When I started this book and captivated by those lyrical, emotional, poetic, amazing words created its own magic, I thought I was falling in love with this book (I loved it so much so as a treat I shared my wine with it! Yes, I’m clumsy and poured it on my kindle, but my intentions were sincere as always) Most of the first parts, I felt the words waltzing on my mind like a fresh breeze rejuvenating my soul. I felt breathless, excited and shaken at the same time. And take a break to look at this beautiful cover. There are so many reasons to fall in love with this book desperately. I loved the characterization of Hiram, slave and the master with photographic memory, lost his mother at 9 (he has hard times to bring memories out about her, maybe he is blocking them because of emotional stress he has to deal with). As his brother dies, he achieves to conduct himself across the water and his magical abilities start to show off. But what went wrong caused me to fall from love and change my opinions about the book: Well: In my opinion those parts embellished with beautiful magical realism didn’t fit the harsh realistic and shameful history. Those words seemed like patches or the wrong pieces of puzzle could never fit to complete the missing pieces’ place. All the psychical, mental suffering, brutality of slavery give us cold showers and shake us to the core, freeze your blood. But when the magical elements took control of the story-telling, I shook my head “no” because I found it a little clunky and I felt like the story started to repeat itself over and over again. So pages started to seem like longer and the pace is slower as I started to lose my interest in the story. And instead of Hiram, other characters were undeveloped and seemed like they’ve been created haphazardly without thinking about their backgrounds, attributes, motives. They weren’t realistic enough to resonate. I think the author’s profession is focused on writing non-fictions. So this book was new challenge and milestone for the author’s carrier. I also watched his interviews and his kind, genuine words and amazing nature, opinions about our modern world deeply affected me. That’s why when I gave three stars of this book, I felt like a scumbag traitor because at the beginning my expectations were so high and I was so close to say that was my favorite fiction of this year. Well, unfortunately it didn’t work for me. But it gave me purpose to read “Between the world and me” and other nonfiction books of the author. (My tbr list is the highest place on the earth. You can see the whole universe if you ever reach to the top!!!!)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chaima ✨ شيماء

    *banging pots and pans together* HELLO I'D LIKE TO BRING EVERYONE'S ATTENTION TO THIS BOOK WHICH IS DESCRIBED AS: "A bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author's bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, The Water Dancer is the story of America's oldest struggle--the struggle to tell the truth--from one of our most exciting thinkers and beaut/>"A *banging pots and pans together* HELLO I'D LIKE TO BRING EVERYONE'S ATTENTION TO THIS BOOK WHICH IS DESCRIBED AS: "A bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author's bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, The Water Dancer is the story of America's oldest struggle--the struggle to tell the truth--from one of our most exciting thinkers and beautiful writers." TAKE MY MONEY!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily May

    Ta-Nehisi Coates is an amazing non-fiction writer. His Between the World and Me is an extraordinary work that should be required reading. He has this way of making a non-fiction piece flow like poetry and you would think an author who writes non-fiction like Coates does - so poetic and compelling - would transition well to fiction. But this book never quite felt like a novel to me, even with the magical realism elements. It is slow, introspective, ruminative… I am stuck feeling like Coates should have c Ta-Nehisi Coates is an amazing non-fiction writer. His Between the World and Me is an extraordinary work that should be required reading. He has this way of making a non-fiction piece flow like poetry and you would think an author who writes non-fiction like Coates does - so poetic and compelling - would transition well to fiction. But this book never quite felt like a novel to me, even with the magical realism elements. It is slow, introspective, ruminative… I am stuck feeling like Coates should have cut 100 pages and wrote this as another non-fiction piece about the psychology of slavery and slave owners. There are fascinating things being said, and beautifully, but they are bogged down by many less interesting moments. Coates opens with a long sentence, spanning an entire paragraph. Though there is a story here - of Hiram Walker, who was endowed with a mysterious power when his mother was sold and now longs to escape from slavery - it gets lost beneath all the poeticising of superfluous details. Coates moves the story along a few steps and then spends pages and pages lost in a thought before finally returning to it. Some books get away with being slow and heavily-detailed, others get away with not having a strong narrative, but it is quite difficult to write a fully engaging book that does both these things. I really do feel like I read a book full of thought-provoking ideas about slave/owner psychology that would have been so much better as a non-fiction opinion piece. As a novel, the lack of focus and absence of fleshed-out characters (aside from Hiram) meant that it didn't quite work for me. I would recommend this for fiction readers who care more about the way language is used than for the characters or the tale being told. Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

  4. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    4+stars At its core, this novel is a story of slavery, the shameful injustice, horrific treatment of human beings, of the amazing guts and guile of the people in the Underground transporting people to freedom, in the south of the 1860’s. This is such a powerful story depicting the life of slaves on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, highlighting throughout the gut wrenching separation of children from their mothers, separation of fathers and children, husbands and wives. The writing is beaut 4+stars At its core, this novel is a story of slavery, the shameful injustice, horrific treatment of human beings, of the amazing guts and guile of the people in the Underground transporting people to freedom, in the south of the 1860’s. This is such a powerful story depicting the life of slaves on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, highlighting throughout the gut wrenching separation of children from their mothers, separation of fathers and children, husbands and wives. The writing is beautiful in so many places that I found myself rereading passages. It’s a complex story infused with magical realism. It’s a creatively written story, but the magical realism wasn’t a problem for me given the beautiful prose when I found myself in these instances of “Conduction”. I do admit that I was a little confused at times about the Underground as portrayed here. Hiram Walker, called Hi, a slave, son of the plantation owner has the gift of memory, the ability to recall everything he sees and hears and reads when he learns to read, except one thing. He can’t remember his mother, sold by his father when Hi was nine years old. Hi has another gift, one he struggles to understand until he finds a place as an agent on the Underground. On Hi’s journey we meet a large cast of characters, some are courageous, some will touch your heart and there were some that I just couldn’t understand, but the journey is an amazing one. This isn’t a book for everyone because the magical realism may not be for you, but it’s an important and beautifully written story of slavery unlike anything I’ve read. It will hit you in the gut as it should and the characters will touch your heart with its depiction of family, of love, and the desire to be free. I received an advanced copy of this book from Random House/One World through NetGalley.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    A breathtakingly imaginative, lyrical and well researched antebellum historical fiction debut novel, infused with magical realism from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Follow the life of the extraordinary enslaved Hiram Walker, the black son of Howell Walker, plantation owner in Virginia, whose mother is sold by his father at the tender age of 9, gifted with the ability to remember everything, except memories of his mother, and later the power of conduction. A new vocabulary is created for slaves and whites, t A breathtakingly imaginative, lyrical and well researched antebellum historical fiction debut novel, infused with magical realism from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Follow the life of the extraordinary enslaved Hiram Walker, the black son of Howell Walker, plantation owner in Virginia, whose mother is sold by his father at the tender age of 9, gifted with the ability to remember everything, except memories of his mother, and later the power of conduction. A new vocabulary is created for slaves and whites, the fight for freedom leads to the Underground Railway with its hopes and dreams of a better future. This is a richly descriptive and detailed picture of the horrors of slavery, the deliberate practice of breaking up families and loving relationships and the psychological trauma this inflicts. Underpinning these inhuman wicked acts is the drive to crush and extinguish any embers of resistance to the status quo. Coates gives us profoundly traumatic, heartbreaking and moving storytelling that haunts, a necessary retelling of American history, the repercussions of which continue to bedevil contemporary America, doing it with humanity and compassion. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    If you've read his non fiction than you know what a powerfully this author writes. I was so curious about his first first foray into fiction. Would it be as good, as powerful? For me the answer is yes. This is a vividly portrayed and imaginative slave narrative. It takes place mostly in Virginia at a plantation called Lockless. Hiram is our narrator, he remembers little of his mother and he is the black son of the plantation owner. He also possesses a remarkable memory, and another unusual talen If you've read his non fiction than you know what a powerfully this author writes. I was so curious about his first first foray into fiction. Would it be as good, as powerful? For me the answer is yes. This is a vividly portrayed and imaginative slave narrative. It takes place mostly in Virginia at a plantation called Lockless. Hiram is our narrator, he remembers little of his mother and he is the black son of the plantation owner. He also possesses a remarkable memory, and another unusual talent, which I will not explain in this review. The life and brutality of the slave life is powerfully portrayed, the daily losses, the death of self. The slaves are called the tasked, and they yearn for connection, for freedom. Freedom takes an unusual turn here, and a little magical realism or substitution is employed. The characters, so many, even some of the quality are involved in the intense struggle for freedom. He also doesn't forget to mention all the disenfranchised, those yearning for a freedom not willing not given to them. A truly remarkable first novel, wonderful characters, steady pacing and s little something different that sets it apart. ARC from Netgalley.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Humphrey

    Obviously I'm the worst at coming back to review those pesky RTC placeholders, but I felt the need to say a few words regarding this one. Even though I can't remember any specific quotes this far removed, I will always remember how moving the narrative is, how engaging the writing was, and how necessary, important, and timely this story will continue to be. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters

    The beginning pulled me in right away.... but then at some point I found myself forcing to read it. Poetic writing - brutal powerful history - but rather than being worried the subject would be too emotionally heavy to experience... I failed in getting the jell-O to gel. One of the most gorgeous book covers I’ve seen all year!!!! An Oprah pick! A beautiful man-of- a human being who wrote it. I enjoyed his YouTube interviews more than the book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marchpane

    “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” —Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon In Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel, The Water Dancer, a young enslaved man named Hiram Walker gets involved in the Underground Railroad. His personal resistance manifests in Conduction, an incipient mystical power which—if only Hiram could master it—would enable him to spirit people away from their bondage. For me, this premise immediately calls to mind Morrison’s Song of Solomon, with its legends of (literal) human f “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” —Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon In Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel, The Water Dancer, a young enslaved man named Hiram Walker gets involved in the Underground Railroad. His personal resistance manifests in Conduction, an incipient mystical power which—if only Hiram could master it—would enable him to spirit people away from their bondage. For me, this premise immediately calls to mind Morrison’s Song of Solomon, with its legends of (literal) human flights to freedom. ‘Conduction’ however is earthbound, moored to memories. The latent possibility of its magic simmers just out of reach for most of this novel. Coates explores the psychology of enslavement with thoughtful and detailed nuance. We observe the frequently paradoxical feelings, motives and actions of traumatised people; riven families and their consequent grief; the emotional confusion of a slaveowner to whom Hiram is both son and property; dubiously fanatical white abolitionists ('their opposition was a kind of vanity, a hatred of slavery that far outranked any love of the slave'). These characters abound with deeply human complications, and Coates seems mainly interested in uncovering their layers through a kind of painstaking emotional archaeology. This is a slow, ruminative novel, and the prose—being heavily reliant on expository dialogue—is a little too stolid to compensate for a lack of narrative thrust. I also found it hard to get a fix on Hiram as a character, despite the novel being entirely his first person perspective. It’s probable that I picked this up at exactly the wrong time for me, but I struggled at times to stick with it. With its striking resonances, I found a lot to admire in The Water Dancer on an intellectual level, but less immersion in the story than I had hoped. 3.5 stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I’m in the minority here so read other people’s reviews. Up to around 35% I just loved this book.. then it went off into another direction and moved so very slow.. I kept going till 50% and could not bring myself to keep going. I’m giving it three stars because of the part that I loved! Thank you to Netgalley and One World for the opportunity to read this!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    This book grabbed me from its first pages and never let me go. Hiram Walker is the son of a plantation owner. But he’s the black son, born to a slave and thus a slave himself. His mother was sold “Natchez way” when he was 9. After a near death experience as a young man, he plots to escape. Despite having a photographic memory, Hiram has lost his memories of his mother. It’s a literary device that really captures the loss of a family member to slavery . This book is so beautifully written it take This book grabbed me from its first pages and never let me go. Hiram Walker is the son of a plantation owner. But he’s the black son, born to a slave and thus a slave himself. His mother was sold “Natchez way” when he was 9. After a near death experience as a young man, he plots to escape. Despite having a photographic memory, Hiram has lost his memories of his mother. It’s a literary device that really captures the loss of a family member to slavery . This book is so beautifully written it takes your breath away in much the same way that the near drowning takes Hiram’s. It truly captures the horrors of slavery. I loved his use of words. Not slave and owner. But Tasked and Quality. Even the whites are designated as Quality or Low. “Bored whites were barbarian whites. While they played at aristocrats, we were their well-appointed and stoic attendants. But when they tired of dignity, the bottom fell out. New games were anointed and we were but the pieces on the board. It was terrifying. There was no limit to what they might do at this end of the tether, nor what my father would allow them to do.” As can be expected, Hi is infuriated. He’s the smart one while is white half brother is a dullard, gambling away what’s left of the family fortune. Coates spells out for us the incredible suffering of being a slave. And he’s not talking physical suffering but the mental suffering of never being able to express yourself or allow yourself natural wants like a loving relationship. Coates uses magical realism as a plot device. It becomes a larger and larger part of the story as the book goes on. I struggled with this, more so when a well known historical character is given a certain mythical power. Similar to The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, one has to be willing to suspend belief. My other quibble is that he doesn’t set us firmly in time or place. We know that Virginia is in decline, the soil exhausted from years of tobacco. But I couldn’t tell how far before the Civil War we were. Or where in Virginia we were as there is no Goose River, Elm County or Brycetown. This is a pet peeve of mine and just a few sentences could have cleared things up. This is not a fast read. It needs to be pondered. I do feel it started much stronger than it finished. But it’s a very meaningful read and I would recommend it. My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    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 f/> 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

  13. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    From its magical book cover art to its plot steeped in tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s novel feels like a surrendering of life and soul, as if the pages are infused with the breath of its creator, the words dancing into the human shape of those who paid the highest price. ‘The Water Dancer’ is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read about slavery. Coates nails down the suffering of slavery when he focuses on the emotions of Hiram Walker, who is separated from his Mama Rose when she is taken From its magical book cover art to its plot steeped in tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s novel feels like a surrendering of life and soul, as if the pages are infused with the breath of its creator, the words dancing into the human shape of those who paid the highest price. ‘The Water Dancer’ is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read about slavery. Coates nails down the suffering of slavery when he focuses on the emotions of Hiram Walker, who is separated from his Mama Rose when she is taken to be sold. Hiram is nine years old. Then Coates’s laser light focus shines on the old woman known as Thena, whose five young children are sent Natchez way; she becomes the meanest, hardest shell of a woman until one day that shell is pricked by the lost gaze of a boy who no longer has a mother. How much can a body take? That question was ask daily of those who Tasked for the Quality. Hiram’s white father, Howell Walker is the master of the plantation, Lockless. While riding through the Street, his young son calls attention to himself by mimicking his elders in a call and response song, and the elder Walker flips Hiram a coin. Hiram thinks the coin is a symbol of his way out of slave life. Indeed, it’s not long before he’s called to the big house to take lessons along with his brother, Maynard, and eventually, to serve as Maynard’s protector. It’s quite a job because Maynard has been spoiled by desultory living. His sole ambition is to please himself. Thena reminds Hiram, “They are not your family.” It’s something Hiram would have done well to heed, but he’s just a boy, a boy longing for the presence and love of the one adult parent he has left in his life. While Hiram is fast and smart, Maynard is slow and dull. Hiram thinks his father is ashamed to have such a fine intelligence show up in his bastard black son while his white son struggles with comprehension and schoolwork. Hiram has a tremendous gift of memorization. He can recreate a drawing from memory, remember and keep straight a whole slew of stories and who told them and repeat them back word for word. He can remember each card in a deck of cards turned over and all the carved symbols on a box of discs. He performed parlor tricks to entertain his father’s guests and that is how his gift of photographic memory came to light. Hiram has another gift; this is where the author introduces an element of magical realism. During the span of the book, Hiram will be trying to learn how to bring his gift forward and how to utilize it. His special gift is tied to memory although he has a huge block in his mind about the time his mother was sold. When Coates writes about Hiram’s gifts and his memories, he evokes a lightning storm of emotions in the protagonist, who sees fleeting glimpses of a lady dancer, with a jug of water perched on her head, and hears the sounds of the people making music for the dancers. Most power structures use violence as a way to balance things. The powerless person gets and uses a gun. The powerless person grows muscles and beats someone up. The powerless person enlists the power of the Mob. In an interview with Evan Narcisse, Coates says he wanted to do something different and he attributes some of his thinking about how power is used to Isabel Wilkerson’s book ‘The Warmth of Other Suns,’ which helped him to realize the positive side of running as resistance. So Coates reaches down to Mythology and creates something greater than violence, something that transcends violence. But we have to always remember, we can never forget the things that have been done, the tragedies and sufferings that have been inflicted so that we never do them again. We need books like Coates because we do forget. One of the greatest impacts of the book for me was seeing how white masters ran down the plantation system. How they degraded the soil until it wouldn't grow anything, and on top of the farcical masks of society balls, thoroughbred racehorses and their trappings of wealth, they undermined themselves. When the plantations no longer brought in money, they began to sell their slaves and move westward, looking for new lands and people to pillage. One of Coates’s characters says, “Someday they gonna run out of land, and I don’t know what they’ll do then.” That’s where we are now, close to losing most of our good, arable land and poisoning our atmosphere and our oceans. Hats off to Coates for his complex female characters! Thena, the meanest woman on the Street is the one the young Hiram feels can understand him best. Sophia is subject to the whims of Nathaniel Walker, Hiram’s uncle and no Black man can interfere with that, upon pain of death. She becomes Hiram’s love interest but makes it known that she wishes to belong to no man. The owner of her own plantation after the death of an extremely cruel husband, Corrine Quinn takes her place among the Quality as a genteel Southern lady, but her story is worth discovering on your own because she is much more than she seems. Coates writes as though he knows something about the emotional life of women. The specter of Mama Rose inhabits the threads of the story, tying knots in the rope of family and memories. The family holds place of honor and the sorrows of separation are felt in the marrow of the bones. When Coates visited Calida Garcia Rawles’s art studio in 2017, he knew he wanted her to do the cover art for his book. Rawles had many images of Black people submerged in water on display in her studio. I had never read Coates’s work before but knew I wanted to read it as soon as I could because of the many positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because of this very powerful art on the cover. The picture of a Black man in a dead man float position, his arms reaching out, encircling, is compelling, and on the back cover, a single hand raised, a signal for help or his last-ditch effort to escape impending death. Water is a driving symbol for Rawles's artwork and in this novel, a symbol of transcendence, and ultimately, of hope. Additional Links: Interview with Evan Narcisse https://io9.gizmodo.com/ta-nehisi-coa... Calida Garcia Rawles’s Paintings https://www.calidagarciarawles.com/pr... Ta-Nehisi Coates Launches His First Novel https://www.culturetype.com/2019/07/0...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    “... Virginia, where a man would profess his love for you one moment and sell you off the next.” This book tells some of the stories of the Underground Railroad and is based on “The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts” by William Still. The author created the character of the slave Hiram Walker. Hiram was the son of his mother Rose and her master Howell Walker. After Rose was sold, Hiram was taken in by Thena, who hoped that her laundry money would buy her freedom “... Virginia, where a man would profess his love for you one moment and sell you off the next.” This book tells some of the stories of the Underground Railroad and is based on “The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts” by William Still. The author created the character of the slave Hiram Walker. Hiram was the son of his mother Rose and her master Howell Walker. After Rose was sold, Hiram was taken in by Thena, who hoped that her laundry money would buy her freedom some day. Hiram soon became a house slave and was made to entertain the guests of his father/master with demonstrations of his remarkable memory. Hiram was also assigned to look after his stupid, coarse, older half brother Maynard. Hiram eventually got involved with the Underground Railroad and met the woman called Moses (Harriet Tubman). Hiram learned that he and Moses shared a power known as the Conduction. It took a while for the author to spell out exactly what the Conduction was, and how it might be useful. Apparently it was based on the strange visions reputed to have been experienced by Harriet Tubman following an injury. This was a powerful and well written book. The author told a compelling story without melodrama, violence or sappy romance, which is certainly not always the case in books about slavery. I am not a fan of magical realism, but there was one brilliant passage as Harriet used the Conduction that was written as call-and-response. The sequence was very effective in the audio book read by Joe Morton. The author writes both fiction and nonfiction very well. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    !! NOW AVAILABLE !! 4.5 Stars A beautifully shared story of the history of slavery, a world built by those purchased or born of those referred to as the Tasked under the watchful eyes of their owners, those of the Quality. While this time and place are difficult to read about, there’s a magical element to this that manages to create an atmosphere both hopeful and lovely, and helps to balance out the overall atmosphere. ”I am here, telling this story, and not from the grave, not yet, bu !! NOW AVAILABLE !! 4.5 Stars A beautifully shared story of the history of slavery, a world built by those purchased or born of those referred to as the Tasked under the watchful eyes of their owners, those of the Quality. While this time and place are difficult to read about, there’s a magical element to this that manages to create an atmosphere both hopeful and lovely, and helps to balance out the overall atmosphere. ”I am here, telling this story, and not from the grave, not yet, but from the here and now, peering back into another time, when we were slaves, and close to the earth, and close to a power that baffled the scholars and flummoxed the Quality, a power, like our music, like our dance, that they cannot grasp, because they cannot remember.” (To hear Ta-Nehisi Coates read this quote: https://video.vanityfair.com/watch/ta... ) There is something about the writing that feels as though every word is so deliberately chosen to perfectly convey the emotions, actions and environments throughout this story, while creating this occasionally magical aura at the same time. There are multiple topics woven inside this novel about slavery, the breaking up of families as family members were sold off, the effect on those taken, and those left behind. The trauma of these losses affecting memories, affecting lives. Painful memories that Ta-Nehisi Coates shares with a tender compassion over time, while not sugar-coating any of the evilness of the actions, and allowing these characters, particularly Hiram, Hi, to not only remember but move beyond the pain associated with those memories. Love is another topic, both familial and romantic, and the precariousness of love for the Tasked. This has been compared to Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, since both have an “experimental” touch to them, but this was a much smoother read, for me. While Coates has written other non-fiction books, this is his debut novel, and I was impressed with how beautifully his passion shined through. Pub Date: 24 Sep 2019 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group - Random House – One World

  16. 5 out of 5

    Candie

    This is an absolutely beautiful book! The writing itself is stunning and a lot of work is put into absolutely every sentence. It deals with such heavy and heartbreaking topics and at times it is very hard to read, but also at times still feels optimistic that there are good things in this world worth fighting for such as love, family, connections, familiarity and home. This book took me a while to read as it is very deep and character driven. This is a slow story that you are meant to take your This is an absolutely beautiful book! The writing itself is stunning and a lot of work is put into absolutely every sentence. It deals with such heavy and heartbreaking topics and at times it is very hard to read, but also at times still feels optimistic that there are good things in this world worth fighting for such as love, family, connections, familiarity and home. This book took me a while to read as it is very deep and character driven. This is a slow story that you are meant to take your time with and really absorb and understand. The story line is good and moves along at a good pace but the things that makes this book different from other books on this topic is first the focus on people's thoughts and inner workings. How they felt, how they thought, what made them make the choices that they did. The deep personal thoughts really make this book very powerful as you can relate to the characters on an intimate level, it goes deeper than just the everyday lives and experiences of a slave. Second, it goes deeper and more broad into the politics, the freeing of slaves and the north versus the south; how it all commingled. Previous books I have read usually just focus on one particular plantation or town and the atrocities that happened in everyday life. There is a strong focus on the psychological effects of our experiences. Morality choices such as acting out of revenge and anger. Do they deserve it if they have seriously wronged you? Have you crossed a line? How every decision you make can snowball and unknowingly affect so many lives. Really separating what you think is best for somebody compared to what they want for themselves. How much your understanding of life, relationships and feelings change as you mature and experience more of life. It leaves you with a lot of things to think about and really ponder on. Of all the horrible things that were done to slaves, I must say that the thought of taking a mother's children away from her, really hits me hard. I had a really hard time reading that. I cannot even imagine having my children taken from me. Even writing those words my eyes are tearing up. Not sure about the magical realism parts of the book. I go back and forth on whether I liked that aspect or not. I feel like it is used as a portrayal of how our memories and experiences hold onto us and how important they are to help guide us in our future, but I personally felt like it took away from the story a bit. At times it confused me and I had to stop and get out of the story to think about it and I think it also slightly makes the true history of how hard people had to fight to get free seem a bit too easy. It is very obvious that a lot of work and research has gone into this book. The level of detail and understanding in his writing is amazing. A book I will absolutely not soon forget and definitely recommend. This will be a top seller, I am sure. Thank you so much to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for my ARC.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brenda -Traveling Sister host of The Traveling Friends

    I started off slow dancing and swaying to the harmonic words to the story and I was loving the depth to the story. And then instead of dancing, I found myself swimming upstream and once again lost in the magical elements to the complexity of the story. It became too much of struggle for this over busy reader and I failed to keep up with the beat of this story. I received a copy of the publisher on NetGalley.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Presented as a slave narrative in the tradition of Frederick Douglass, “The Water Dancer” is rooted in details of pre-Civil War Virginia. But like Colson Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad,” the story’s bracing realism is periodically overcome by the mist of fantasy. The result is a budding superhero discovering the dimensions of his power within the confines of a historical novel that critiques the function of racial oppression. That sounds like a mess — Spider-Man Takes Antietam! — but Coates Presented as a slave narrative in the tradition of Frederick Douglass, “The Water Dancer” is rooted in details of pre-Civil War Virginia. But like Colson Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad,” the story’s bracing realism is periodically overcome by the mist of fantasy. The result is a budding superhero discovering the dimensions of his power within the confines of a historical novel that critiques the function of racial oppression. That sounds like a mess — Spider-Man Takes Antietam! — but Coates isn’t dropping supernatural garnish onto “The Water Dancer” anymore than Toni Morrison sends a ghost whooshing through “Beloved” for cheap thrills. Instead, Coates’s fantastical elements are deeply integral to his novel, a way of representing something larger and more profound than the confines of realism could contain. This week, Oprah picked “The Water Dancer” for her new book club, which will stream on Apple TV+ when it launches Nov. 1. The story opens with calamity: During a terrible storm on the Lockless plantation, a horse-drawn carriage crashes off a bridge into an icy river. The driver, a slave named Hiram, miraculously survives. But the passenger, Hiram’s white half-brother and the heir apparent of the plantation, drowns. For their father, this is just the latest disaster. Poorly managed tobacco farming has destroyed the soil on the Lockless plantation. Every year, more slaves must be sold down South to service rising debts. To the master, this is a troubling inconvenience. To the enslaved families ripped apart, it’s a death sentence. Hiram narrates this story from a distance of many years, but he describes everything with. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Book of the Month

    Why I love it by Casey Gerald I am a descendant of enslaved black Americans; someone whose mother disappeared, for a time, when I was young; and, as a memoirist, I’m a writer who remembers for a living. For these reasons, I was in tears by the ninth page of The Water Dancer. What kept me turning the page was the joy I found in witnessing a story I thought I knew, told in a way I’d never seen it told before. The novel follows Hi, a young man in the throes of slavery in Virginia, who Why I love it by Casey Gerald I am a descendant of enslaved black Americans; someone whose mother disappeared, for a time, when I was young; and, as a memoirist, I’m a writer who remembers for a living. For these reasons, I was in tears by the ninth page of The Water Dancer. What kept me turning the page was the joy I found in witnessing a story I thought I knew, told in a way I’d never seen it told before. The novel follows Hi, a young man in the throes of slavery in Virginia, who yearns to be free and, increasingly, is willing to pay the cost to do so. When his escape leads him from the plantation to the headquarters of an underground resistance, Hi finds himself on a quest to remember his past—not simply as an elegy, but as a way of conjuring a magical ability that will help him reach his destination. In heartbreaking and beautiful language, Coates takes us beyond the brass tacks of an escape-from-slavery narrative. Not only do we witness Hi’s journey toward freedom, we also witness his journey to reclaim an inner life that has been plundered by slavery, that Peculiar(ly evil) Institution. As one of Hi’s early caretakers warns, “And though it hurt sometime, you cannot forget … You cannot forget.” With The Water Dancer, Coates helps us to remember. This is no easy read, but like so much of Coates’s work, it is vital. I am grateful. Read more at: https://bookofthemonth.com/the-water-...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    Ta-Nehisi Coates is a genius. (Seriously, he’s got the MacArthur Fellowship to prove it.) I’ve read a lot of his previous work in The Atlantic, along with Between the World and Me, so I was excited to find out that he’s chosen to branch out into historical fiction with The Water Dancer. He’s a gifted writer, and his talent shines in any genre in which he chooses to write. The first thing that struck me in The Water Dancer was the level of detail in each sentence. It’s obvious that Coa Ta-Nehisi Coates is a genius. (Seriously, he’s got the MacArthur Fellowship to prove it.) I’ve read a lot of his previous work in The Atlantic, along with Between the World and Me, so I was excited to find out that he’s chosen to branch out into historical fiction with The Water Dancer. He’s a gifted writer, and his talent shines in any genre in which he chooses to write. The first thing that struck me in The Water Dancer was the level of detail in each sentence. It’s obvious that Coates informed his writing with thorough research, and he used this knowledge to infuse each line with details that vividly depict both the setting (antebellum America) and his characters’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The sentences themselves are carefully crafted and often complex—to digest what was happening, I had to slow my reading speed considerably. This isn’t because the prose is difficult, but more so because every sentence has a purpose. (There’s no filler material here, so don’t expect a light and fluffy beach read, and don’t expect to be able to skim.) Although it took work to read The Water Dancer, I was driven to find out where narrator Hiram Walker’s story would lead. The other striking thing about The Water Dancer is that while it details the cruelty and heartbreak of separating enslaved families, it remains optimistic at its core. The light mysticism/magic in the story is metaphorical—I think the intended message is that we must share common narratives and work toward things that are larger than ourselves. Only then can we move forward without erasing the lessons of the past. I loved reading the text of The Water Dancer, and done correctly, I think it has the potential to be a truly fantastic audiobook. Music is fundamental to this narrative, so careful treatment of the excerpts mentioned in the text could make this a stunning audio presentation. I’m interested in hearing what the publisher does with it. Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with a DRC of this novel, which will be available for purchase on September 24th.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tucker

    SPREAD THE WORD! START A RIOT! RUN THROUGH THE STREETS THIS BOOK NEEDS TO WILL CERTAINLY BECOME A BESTSELLER

  22. 4 out of 5

    Monica **can't read fast enough**

    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, 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.*** Where you can find me: •(♥).•*Monlatable Book Reviews*•.(♥)• Twitter: @monicaisreading Instagram: @readermonica Goodreads Group: The Black Bookcase

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bam cooks the books ;-)

    *4.5 stars rounded up. I've read several novels on the subject of American slavery and the Underground Railroad. So what sets this one apart and makes it special? It's the touch of magical realism that Coates utilizes. What makes it a great book is the high quality of language, the complexity of theme, the depth of feeling. This is a book to be read slowly and savored. I won't soon forget these characters. I've previously read Coates' non-fiction books Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Ye *4.5 stars rounded up. I've read several novels on the subject of American slavery and the Underground Railroad. So what sets this one apart and makes it special? It's the touch of magical realism that Coates utilizes. What makes it a great book is the high quality of language, the complexity of theme, the depth of feeling. This is a book to be read slowly and savored. I won't soon forget these characters. I've previously read Coates' non-fiction books Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, and rated both 5 stars, so I guess you could say I'm a fan of his writing. So happy to see his first venture into fiction resulted in such a remarkable story. Congratulations are in order. I was fortunate to receive an arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for my honest review. Many thanks!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    [3.7] This ambitious novel focuses on the emotional costs of slavery, in particular the destruction of family at the will of slaveowners and the fight to gain control over one's life. To me it feels like a debut novel. The narrative races and sputters and stalls. The magical elements mostly confused me and didn't enrich the story. There are many, many powerful moments in these pages but the reader must be patient.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Absolutely beautiful, enchanting prose while relaying the deplorable horrors of slavery. The story follows Hiram's (Hi's) life from the time his mother was sold through the time he became what he was meant to be. Magical realism with its roots in Africa gives the story a paranormal twist that is fascinating. This is a powerful story and Coates makes the characters come alive. It's really hard to believe this is a first fiction attempt for the author. It is so beautifully written and c Absolutely beautiful, enchanting prose while relaying the deplorable horrors of slavery. The story follows Hiram's (Hi's) life from the time his mother was sold through the time he became what he was meant to be. Magical realism with its roots in Africa gives the story a paranormal twist that is fascinating. This is a powerful story and Coates makes the characters come alive. It's really hard to believe this is a first fiction attempt for the author. It is so beautifully written and carries the reader into the story and the characters are so well drawn you feel you know them. Kudos to Coates! Thanks to Random House Publishing Group through Netgalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    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 firs 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. 5 stars

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Not sure exactly what I was expecting with this one, but I'm extremely glad I (bought and) read it. It's creative and (at points) lyrical and compelling and nicely assembled, and I expect it will achieve a high degree of popularity. Much as I enjoyed it, I wanted more (and, at points, something a little different), but that's just me. My money says this one will stay on the front-of-the-bookstore tables and the best-seller lists for a while, and deservedly so.... The story is rock solid (and Not sure exactly what I was expecting with this one, but I'm extremely glad I (bought and) read it. It's creative and (at points) lyrical and compelling and nicely assembled, and I expect it will achieve a high degree of popularity. Much as I enjoyed it, I wanted more (and, at points, something a little different), but that's just me. My money says this one will stay on the front-of-the-bookstore tables and the best-seller lists for a while, and deservedly so.... The story is rock solid (and holds together well), the historical fiction angle was persuasive and well-constructed, and most of the characters are finely drawn (and play their parts well). For me, however, the fantastic (or fantasy realm) aspects of the story were ... hmmm ... good ... but too often seemed ... insufficient to justify the departure from reality. Granted, I read a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, and what's increasingly called speculative fiction, but my recurring thought was that Coates either should have done more or less with the fantasy realm (and, I mean that, ... either would've sufficed for me). ... My guess is I'll end up in the minority on this point.... But let's be clear: when Coates hits his stride, his prose is splendid. Many a passage was worth re-reading ... and rolling around on the tongue ... and then reading aloud. I'd recommend the book for that aspect alone. As for expectations, it's not fair, but when a successful (powerful, persuasive, popular, thought-provoking) non-fiction author (and essayist and, frankly, public intellectual) wades into the fiction marketplace, he or she (typically) changes character. So, I'm guessing I'm not alone in failing to let go of my pre-conceived expectations, despite appreciating that, of all things, Coates' wildly-popular Black Panther had little in common with his non-fiction work, but ... it's hard to let go ... and, well, you get the point ... and, anyway, I digress.... Oh, and this should be obvious ... but the book's bread and butter are racism and slavery, in all their sordid glory (or, should I say, horror) ... so, if you'd rather pretend the nation's history is one exclusively created in and sustained by inclusion, equality, liberty, and opportunity, my suggestion is you skip this one....

  28. 5 out of 5

    ij

    I struggled with the first part of this book. Overall, great writing!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Having read Between the World and Me, I was both excited and nervous to read this book. Have you ever had a reading experience that made your skin tingle and left you speechless? Well that was how reading Coates's memoirs were for me. I had such a visceral response and found myself revisiting them time and time again. Although I knew Coates's writing to be poetic yet engaging I feared that I may not connect with a work of fiction as I had with his rendering of his life experience. Now that I have t Having read Between the World and Me, I was both excited and nervous to read this book. Have you ever had a reading experience that made your skin tingle and left you speechless? Well that was how reading Coates's memoirs were for me. I had such a visceral response and found myself revisiting them time and time again. Although I knew Coates's writing to be poetic yet engaging I feared that I may not connect with a work of fiction as I had with his rendering of his life experience. Now that I have the pleasure to have read The Water Dancer I can say that it is as moving, lyrical, relevant and profound as his other works. I think I'll just sit here for a minute and bask in its glory. Special thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Random House and Ta-Nehisi Coates for access to this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Walker Iversen

    It's clear this is a first novel by an established writer of a different genre. The prose is clunky in places and too much time is devoted to less interesting action. Despite those reservations, there is some really lovely work here, some imagery and metaphors that feel very resonant.

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