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“The most surprising thing about The Water Dancer may be its unambiguous narrative ambition. This isn’t a typical first novel. . . . The Water Dancer is a jeroboam of a book, a crowd-pleasing exercise in breakneck and often occult storytelling that tonally resembles the work of Stephen King as much as it does the work of Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead and the touchstone African-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler. . . . It is flecked with forms of wonder-working that push at the boundaries of what we still seem to be calling magical realism.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“While neither polemical nor wholly fantastical, the story draws on skills [Coates] developed in those other genres. . . . 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. . . . Coates isn’t dropping supernatural garnish onto The Water Dancer any more 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.”—The Washington Post
“The best writers—the best storytellers, in particular—possess the enchanting, irresistible power to take the reader somewhere else. Ta-Nehisi Coates imagines the furthest reach of that power as a means to transcend borders and bondage in The Water Dancer, a spellbinding look at the impact of slavery that uses meticulously researched history and hard-won magic to further illuminate this country’s original sin. . . . Exploring the loaded issues of race and slavery has become yet more fuel for today’s culture wars, but an underlying message of liberation through the embrace of history forms the true subject of The Water Dancer. . . . Coates envisions the transcendent potential in acknowledging and retelling stories of trauma from the past as a means out of darkness. With recent family separations at the U.S. border, this message feels all the more timely.”—Los Angeles Times
- ASIN : B07NKMZT7T
- Publisher : One World (September 24, 2019)
- Publication date : September 24, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 2251 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 417 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,565 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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“It always happened like this—that is what I had been told. 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 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.”
The foundation of this novel is slavery, and the story is told in a whisper, not a shout, but it so fits the protagonist Hiram Walker. Hiram is the enslaved son of the master, Howell Walker on Lockless, a tobacco plantation in Virginia.
In a nod to that whisper I mentioned, Coates avoids the use of master, masters, slaves, enslaved, etc. instead of employing those terms so familiar to us all concerning slavery, Coates boldly creates a new language referring to the master class as the “Quality” and the enslaved as the “tasked.”An interesting choice of terms that speaks to ambition and boldness, no?
Although Hiram Walker is tasked in the house of his father and enjoys some ‘privilege’ he still pines for freedom. “So as to my freedom, the events stood thus: I knew that I would never advance beyond my blood-bound place at Lockless.”
In his quest for freedom, there are some costly miscalculations and Hiram suffers some setbacks that lead to greater comebacks as he becomes active in the famed Underground Railroad. Hiram is blessed with the power of conduction, not just in the regular sense of the word, but in a magical realism sense.
He has experienced this power in him during a near death drowning at Lockless, but has never learned how to harness this power at his demand. That all changes when he meets none other than Moses herself, Harriet Tubman while working the underground.
I find it very curious to write this conduction business as magical realism(for lack of a better term) because I think it diminishes all the courageous and daring actions taken by those on their way to freedom.
It feels dismissive of what one had to endure to reach freedom, and in some ways denies the obvious brilliance and bravery of a Harriet Tubman who chose to return to the coffin(slavery in the Deep South) again and again and..... I love Coates’ writing but I am not enamored with that choice.
Having said that, I still enthusiastically recommend this novel, just superbly written with a cast of engaging characters, some intrigue, some thrills, and yes some horror, but not written horrifically( the whispering). I’m certain this book will garner a multitude of discussion and commerce. Ta-Nehisi Coates can now confidently add novelist to his writing career! Thanks to Netgalley and OneWorld-Random House Publishing for an ARC. Book is out 9/24/2019.
"Waters" prose were overly wordy and pretentious at times, leading the reader out of the belief that anyone would ever think in the manner that the character thought. I was a little offended that the hero with "superman powers" was taking some of the credit away from Harriet Tubman who was really the heroine in history. I seriously hope that schools do not use this book in their curriculum, as Black women have few female super heroes as Harriet Tubman was so her accomplishments in anyway being attributed to the hero is not appropriate.
I got the impression that many of the positive reviews are probably paid or friends.
Although "Waters" did have a few moments they were so few and far between it was hard to make it to the end of the book and was not worth the time it took to read.
Hiram Walker is the son of the master, yet is warned repeatedly that he will never be a part of that life. The life of the house and the inheritance and the love of blood relation, especially after his mother is sold and all memory of her disappears. But, Hi has a gift that will help him throughout his life. A Conduction, a memory that is more powerful than photographic, it is all consuming, all senses. A parlor trick in the House gains him the special attention from his father and he begins his tutoring. An education that puts makes him his white step-brother’s man. With his father ailing, it is up to Hi to protect his wayward brother and the plantation. But Virginia’s tobacco crops are failing and Maynard is a lout. This is beyond what Hi can do. He needs to get out.
I will end my plot discussion there because the twists and the turns start and really don’t stop until the end of the novel. It is such a powerful piece of writing. I can say right now that 50 pages in I was thinking that this book would be a great addition to any high school or college English course. Obviously, the subject matter is immensely power, but it is Coates’s writing that makes the story come alive. In one place in the beginning chapters, he creates an analogy of a machine that he uses to describe the production of the plantation in regards to slavery. I know that this may not be a new idea, but his details are so memorable and discerning.
I was also struck by the way Coates describes Hi’s place in the hierarchy of the plantation, the family, the slave culture, the state of Virginia, and ultimately the whole United States. Hi describes it to the reader from such a personal point of view and so vividly.
My only criticism is that the storytelling and writing was a bit uneven at times. There is a dream-like quality to the first several scenes of the book, but then suddenly the story becomes much more grounded and realistic. It doesn’t depart from this straight style for many chapters and then it was again jarring. It led to confusion and wasn’t signaled in any particular way.
Ultimately, The Water Dance is an immensely powerful read that is touched by elements of magical realism.
Top reviews from other countries
Having recently re-viewed Gone With The Wind, which President Trump clearly adores, I’m convinced that we need more movies — and more books — that present slavery as it actually was, and not as apologists for the Confederacy want us to see it.
Ta-Nehisi Coates new novel is nothing at all like Django, in the sense that it does not harp on the violence and brutality of plantation life in Virginia. The lead character, Hiram Walker, is the son of the plantation’s white owner and one of his slaves. Throughout the book, which Walker narrates, he refers to the slave-owner (and his owner) as ‘my father’. Much of the story revolves around the destruction of Black families, who were sold off individually as property by slave owners.
While there is little of the blood-letting which Tarantino showed, slavery is presented here as a slow-burning horror. In the end, one feels in addition to rage, a very deep sense of sadness at the pointless cruelty of everyday live in the pre-Civil War American South.
Hiram has a memory with perfect recall, but alas he cannot remember his mother, indeed there is a hole in his memory, and he cannot even remember what she looked like. As the son of a female slave, his father is the Plantation owner, and he thus has a white half-brother, who dies early on in this story. As we read of Hiram growing up so we have a certain sense of realism, but this is always being broached by the fantastical element, which instead of adding to the tale seems to stifle it a bit, giving a bit of an off-kilter view of things. So what we end up with is something that at times does not reach its full potential.
The characters and situations, with regards to the Underground Railroad and the different experiences of slaves from different areas reads as authentic, also this takes in the raping of the land, as the tobacco plantation that Hiram comes from is starting to decrease production due to the soil becoming too eroded. The latter is something that still rankles, as it changed parts of the US completely, and of course around the world this intense farming of one crop has caused serious soil damage. As the plantation is being run into the ground so we see slaves being sold off, and older ones being brought in when needed as replacements.
We read of the brutalities that went on on some plantations and the various relations between slaves and their owners. Coates also brings up here other issues, which are lightly touched upon at a camp, where there are people touting female suffrage, free love, communism and so on, although these are never furthered and thus are left as loose ends. With the Conduction elements so we have something that does jar and seems to not flow with the rest of the story. Such a power supposedly comes from Africa, with its different religions and myths, but somehow has become mixed with Christianity, which we know happens when religions collide, however we get in one place at least, quite a biblical scene that does not fit rightly, whilst what is going on is certainly not biblical; indeed Hiram’s power, which others also have is quite reminiscent of the Harry Potter books, where Harry and others travel via fireplaces. Here is it done by waterways, and you need a guide to take you.
This is this author’s first novel, and as such is very good, but personally I felt that if the fantastical elements were left out, thus keeping this more realistic throughout then this could well have been a modern classic, as although such things can and do work in other books, here it just destroys the fluidity and balance of the story, and decreases some of its power.