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The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel Hardcover – September 24, 2019

4.6 out of 5 stars 2,606 ratings

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From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of September 2019: Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of one of the most important nonfiction books of this decade, Between the World and Me, which means that his fiction debut arrives with a great amount of anticipation. Would the urgency of his nonfiction writing come through in a novel? Would he be as nimble in a made-up world? Would it be good? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Coates’s novel is the story of Hiram Walker, who was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation that is owned by his white father and experiencing a slow decline. Although Hiram is gifted with a photographic memory, his mother—who was sold away when he was young—is the one thing he cannot remember. Indeed, many of the women in his life are taken away from him too early—a fact that will guide his actions later in the novel. The story blends the brutality of history with more imaginative elements: for example, white people are called the Quality, black people are called the Tasked; and Hiram possesses powers that fall into the spectrum of magical realism. As the novel moves north to Philadelphia, where Hiram grows into his own and begins working for the Underground, and eventually turns back to his southern birthplace, the fantastical elements only give greater power to the story. The Water Dancer is a stirring debut, and Coates is the novelist we were hoping he would be. --Chris Schluep

Review

“Coates balances the horrors of slavery against the fantastical. He extends the idea of the gifts of the disenfranchised to include a kind of superpower. But The Water Dancer is very much its own book, and its gestures toward otherworldliness remain grounded. In the end, it is a novel interested in the psychological effects of slavery, a grief that Coates is especially adept at parsing. . . . In Coates’s world, an embrace can be a revelation, rare and astonishing.”—Esi Edugyan, The New York Times Book Review

“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

Product details

  • 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: 4.6 out of 5 stars2,606 customer ratings
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
2,606 customer ratings
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Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2019
Format: Kindle Edition
263 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States on October 2, 2019
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
112 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2019
Format: Hardcover
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Top international reviews

Kindle Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars Slavery is not arguable
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 1, 2019
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Venesta
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 18, 2019
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not awful but not amazing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 16, 2019
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Thalita
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 20, 2019
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Madubuike Lafayette
5.0 out of 5 stars Great product
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 24, 2020
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kat amara korba
5.0 out of 5 stars As ordered
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 8, 2020
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Linda Pfeiffer
4.0 out of 5 stars A profound story which should awaken many feelings for the reader
Reviewed in Canada on October 7, 2019
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Jim KABLE
5.0 out of 5 stars Dignity Restored
Reviewed in Australia on October 6, 2019
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Peter Eerden
5.0 out of 5 stars There is no substitute to excellence
Reviewed in Australia on November 30, 2019
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Sherry Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book.
Reviewed in Canada on October 23, 2019
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N S ARAVINDH
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and Engaging
Reviewed in India on March 11, 2020
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Cedric Randolph
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth in magic
Reviewed in Italy on October 9, 2019
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leslie graham
3.0 out of 5 stars Confusing read
Reviewed in Canada on March 2, 2020
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Cheryl Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
Reviewed in Canada on January 26, 2020
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T girl
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Reviewed in Canada on November 26, 2019
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