Monday, March 2, 2020

The Water Dancer - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Summary: 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. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I thought this book was so interesting. First of all, I love historical fiction, and historical fiction that involves real events and real people interwoven with the fictional story is just really cool.

I’ve read quite a few books about the Underground Railroad over the years, and I find them fascinating. It’s so hard to imagine this part of history, mostly because it is just so unbelievable (and yet believable, which is disturbing) that people would treat one another this way. Although our world is violent and we have our fair share of disturbing events, the idea of slavery, of actually owning a slave or being a slave, is so outside my realm of experience that I really appreciate those who are able to make it accessible and real. I think it’s important to feel the discomfort that comes from knowing that an entire race of people were considered inferior enough that they were captured from their land and made into slaves. I am not naïve in thinking that there aren’t still horrors that go on in this very country between the different races, but I think that actually owning slaves is just above and beyond comprehension.

It seems that no matter how many books I read about slavery and the Underground Railroad, I’m always amazed by the new things I learn—the new lows, but also the humanity and the culture that existed within the slave communities. I love being able to put myself in other people’s shoes—and sometimes that is really painful—and I think that this book did a great job of just that. The writing in this book is interesting in that at first it took me a little while to get into it. You know how when an author has such a strong style you’re very aware of actually reading, whereas if this is a talented author (and Coates is, I assure you) it starts out that way and then all of a sudden that falls away and you are transported into their world? That is what happened here. The first little while I was very aware of the cadence and the style, and then just a few chapters in I was swept away by the story. I loved Coates’ writing; it was lyrical and poignant and had a cadence that is very unique. It made for a very visual and mentally stimulating reading experience, which I loved.

The characters in this book are excellent. I enjoyed them a lot. I enjoyed that they weren’t flawless, but they were relatable and real. As the main character tells the story, he does a great job of dropping hints about what is going to happen in a way that is not annoying but more like he’s telling a story. I found it charming and it kept me interested. There is also one character in particular who is a crossover from history but was given magical powers and it was awesome. I have to admit that at first these magical powers were very confusing to me, and Coates used the word “Conduction” to describe it. I actually went and did some Wikipedia reading and book summary reading to find out what it meant (thinking I was just being clueless) and then the very next page it was explained beautifully and such that it made a lot of sense. I loved the magical realism of this book. Coates does an incredible job of weaving magic and culture and belief together in a way that feels real and authentic in the real world.

As with many books that are so good, I think there was a lot more that would be told. It could definitely have companion books that tell backs stories of other characters and the future of certain characters and I think it would be great. However, I also enjoy the slice of life that comes from reading a story like this, and the understanding I gain from being able to see in to that world for the short amount of time that I am allowed.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book deals with slavery and harsh human conditions. There is some discussion of sex and some minor language, but those are much less offensive than the slavery and the violence related to that.

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