This book made big waves across the pond: it was a choice read for Ophrah Winfrey’s Book Club (I’ll be honest; I have no idea what that is), which pretty much guarantees a ready-made audience. And it deserves it. The Water Dancer is a very good book.
The story is set in Virginia during the decline of the plantations that brought untold misery to so many people. Hiram Walker is the son of a slave and the plantation owner. Though his mother is sold away when he is very young, Hiram thrives, after a fashion, due to the kindness of his fellow slaves, his photographic memory and the superhuman ability to transport himself and others across great distances. It’s the teleportation that draws interest from an underground group that has dedicated itself to rescuing slaves.
I’d heard a lot about this book, but when I started reading it, it wasn’t really what I expected. It’s very much a slow-burner, focussing on the literary, almost poetic prose, to bring an unusual fantasy novel to life. Coates has steered away from the physical suffering of the plantation slaves to bring a different perspective: the emotional suffering of separation. The slaves are property, so when the plantations began to fail, the slaves were sold off, with no regard for the wives, husbands or children left behind. For me, this was the most harrowing part of the whole story.Continue reading “The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates”