The Water Dancer: A Novel

The Water Dancer: A Novel

With 2704 ratings

By: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Purchased At: $31.50

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • From the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

“This potent book about America’s most disgraceful sin establishes [Ta-Nehisi Coates] as a first-rate novelist.”—San Francisco Chronicle

NOMINATED FOR THE NAACP IMAGE AWARD • NAMED ONE OF PASTE’S BEST NOVELS OF THE DECADE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Time • NPR • The Washington PostChicago TribuneVanity Fair • Esquire Good Housekeeping Paste • Town & Country • The New York Public Library • Kirkus Reviews Library Journal

“Nearly every paragraph is laced through with dense, gorgeously evocative descriptions of a vanished world and steeped in its own vivid vocabulary.”—Entertainment Weekly

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 idealistic 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.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Praise for The Water Dancer

“Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most important essayist in a generation and a writer who changed the national political conversation about race with his 2015 memoir, Between the World and Me. So naturally his debut novel comes with slightly unrealistic expectations—and then proceeds to exceed them. The Water Dancer . . . is a work of both staggering imagination and rich historical significance. . . . What’s most powerful is the way Coates enlists his notions of the fantastic, as well as his fluid prose, to probe a wound that never seems to heal. . . . Timeless and instantly canon-worthy.”Rolling Stone
The prose is magjestic(not a typo, a combination of magnificent and majestic). And the reason why I lead with that is simply, the magjesty(not a typo)will keep you going when this bold and very ambitious novel drags a little under the weight of the challenge of crafting a story about the ills and evils of slavery, without the loudness.

“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.

- virginia_wilson

This book was a little slow, overly verbose and meandering. The magical realism impacting history theme was similar and already done better in a book that came out earlier in the year, "Memoirs of the Senator's Wife." However, "Memoirs" storyline was intricate and interesting.

"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.

- amy_kelly

An epic story of a drive to get north and a chance to help others. The gift that Coates gives to the reader is his language. The illustrative metaphors that help a 21st century reader try to get some semblance of the life of a 19th century slave.

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.

- annie_long

A slavery novel. I cannot claim to understand. Very nicely written. But, somehow, pedestrian. Slavery is bad. African memories exist, and become other things in the stories of America. But I wonder, about the the story featuring a white-lady saviour, without whom, etc., etc. I don't know. Perhaps I'm being unfair. But it doesn"t follow that someone writing about slavery gets a free pass.

- leo_stewart

This is a well crafted and beautifully written novel. It is a moving and engaging tale that keeps you invested in the narrator's story. The horrors of slavery are well documented but this is a new voice bringing a new perspective with vivid imagery and often wistful prose.

- deandre_chavez

I loved this book to begin with, but my interest waned around the halfway mark. From that point on it was inconsistent for me, felt like it had lost its focus, and some potentially interesting characters were not fully developed.

- serenity_richardson

Haven’t finished yet, but it’s a good read a page turner

- undefined_jimenez

Great product

- alayna_ramirez

great quality and delivery.

- rebekah_miller

This beautifully written book opens with a slave, Hiram, taking, Maynard, the son of the tobacco plantation owner for a ride in a horse drawn carriage across the bridge which was a route for transporting slaves or taskers, as they are known in the book, south to Mississippi. Something spooks the horse and the carriage plunges the into the icy cold Goose River. During his near death drowning the protagonist Hiram Walker sees a vision of his late mother and visualizes her departure out of his life when she was sold away from him when he was just a little boy. She was sold by the plantation owner who was his own father, Howell Walker which made the recently deceased Maynard his half brother.
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.

- noe_stewart

I have kinfolk descended out of slavery from 17th, 18th century Jamaica, New York - and others out of the Caribbean. This book - for Anglo-Australian me - is the book of the decade. It is not a linear tale - it spreads back into Africa and sideways across generations and through the plantation system - the warping of those “Quality” owners and their class - of others in the class and caste system of slavery and in all the permutations of the ways in which the use and abuse of it marred and scarred the human beings chained to its machinations. The magic of conduction as part of the many and varied ways in which the Underground Railway worked - along with knowledge that there were those from the Quality ranks itself who were part of the Underground - all thrilling. Memory as the key. How marvellous and life-affirming this novel by Ta Nehisi-Coates. With many many thanks from this cousin far across the waters!

- arya_wright

To be wowed by the writings of an author is to acknowledge the triumph of storytelling through his hand. Ta-Nahisi Coates is a master craftsman plying his trade for the enjoyment of his readers and giving us all a revolutionary conduction that ties his Tasked story together. To understand this of course you too need to be conducted and that is to say; read the book. There is no other way to understand just how exceptional this book is and how it affected my five star rating. It is the first time I have wished for a ten star rating but even that would not suffice. It is that good. So, do yourself a favour. Read and be conducted.

- hank_roberts

Brilliantly written and extremely moving. This book brings to life the horrors of slavery for those in bondage and those who own them as well as for the remainder of White society that cannot afford slaves. This is the basis of America’s past since 1619 from which we continue to suffer today.

- isabela_thompson

You might not understand the intricacy in the first few chapters but the way this book has been weaved is so beautiful that more insights will come forward as you read through. This book will definitely make you question about the privileges people have this century. I am not a black person living in US to understand the repercussions of slavery but it does emulate the situation a bit in the other parts of the world these days maybe not in the form of racism everywhere but has shaped in a different way in the form of sexism, ageism, homophobia, classism and religious intolerance.

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.

- ridge_wright

From start to finish there is not one false note. Hi weaves his magic through time and space. Coates’ voice is certain in every persona and throughout this narrative on the formation of the true soul of the United States in a metaphor for what one day will be a fully blended nation consolidated by its history.

- bailey_harris

I don’t know what I expected from this book but I found it fell short. So much praise from everyone that I thought it would be better

- madison_taylor

A most beautifully written story. The words weaved a story you could wrap yourself in. I could read this book over and over again

- brendan_thomas

Great book. A little slow at first but soon becomes a book you wish would never end.

- aylin_lewis

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