- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: One World; First Edition edition (September 24, 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399590595
- ISBN-13: 978-0399590597
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 2,606 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel Hardcover – September 24, 2019
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An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Chosen Ones" by Veronica Roth
"A stunning thriller/fantasy/sci-fi chimera like nothing I've read before." - Blake Crouch Learn more
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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
“Mythic language pervades the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates. . . . With The Water Dancer . . . we pay witness to a writer unchained . . . a writer finally able to marry novelistic tendencies to the form. . . . The fistfuls of firmament Coates is able to bring back to us are a wonder to behold. . . . The horrors depicted never felt rote or part of any genre rulebook. In highlighting families, Coates made his characters individuals. . . . Elements of the adventure novel, of the heist novel, of the romance are all there. But Coates expertly subverts the expectations each of those labels carries. . . . The book does not lack for scene-stealers. . . . Who is he talking to when he demands remembering? He’s talking to us. All of us.”—Tochi Onyebuchi, Tordotcom
“Studied and meticulous, the novel is a slave narrative that depicts the quotidian horrors of family separation. Even so, it’s remarkably tender: The Water Dancer is also a romance.”—The Atlantic
“An experience in taking [Toni] Morrison’s ‘chances for liberation’ literally: What if memory had the power to transport enslaved people to freedom?’ . . . The most moving part of The Water Dancer [is] the possibility it offers of an alternate history. . . . The book’s most poignant and painful gift is the temporary fantasy that all the people who leaped off slave ships and into the Atlantic were not drowning themselves in terror and anguish, but going home.”—NPR
“An electrifying, inventive novel . . . [Coates] loses none of his mastery for conveying complex ideas and blending a deep knowledge of American history with scintillating wordsmanship. . . . His craft shows on every page. He gives this story—and these men and women—the care and space they demand and deserve. . . . A haunting adventure story told through the tough lens of history, The Water Dancer is a quintessentially American story of self-creation, doubt, and elevation.”—The Boston Globe
“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
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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 international reviews
Thus begins the saga of this young man and his venture into the underground railroad and his quest for answers concerning his mother's disappearance and his special abilities which he believes he inherited from her and his African ancestors.
This is a special book with insight into the American history of enslaving Africans. Racism is ingrained in some white folk just as fear of all white people is ingrained in some black folk. This book tries to tackle the last part of this equation from the perspective of the black taskers. I was very moved.
The story of Hiram is so fascinating and it gives you a glimpse of what slavery is, what happens when you try to escape slavery, how life is after the freedom they long for and what kind of sacrifices people had to make just to stay alive.