The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer

A Novel

Book - 2019
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#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

"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

"In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation's most important writers, tackling one of America's oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations." --Booklist (starred review)
Publisher: New York : One World, [2019]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9780399590597
Branch Call Number: COATES T
Characteristics: 403 pages ; 25 cm


From the critics

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Oct 18, 2019

Phew- I finally finished this book. This was such a slow read for me. I usually finish a book in a few days. This one took me 2 weeks. I just wasn’t drawn back to the story. I found myself finding something else to do like watching Netflix instead of going back to the book. Not sure why. I normally like historical fiction set in this time period, and Hiram wasn’t a bad character, but something just didn’t click with me and this book. It might have been that there was a lot of contemplation in this book and not enough action and dialogue to move it along at a better pace. I’m sure a lot of Oprah book club fans will love it, but it didn’t live up to the hype for me.

STPL_JessH Oct 02, 2019

Well, I have to say that the first half of this book was absolutely everything I wanted from Ta-Nehsisi Coates' debut novel. The writing is absolutely transformative. I read slowly so I could savor each luscious description. I was thrilled by the nuance and the careful way Coates layers story upon story.

That said, I did not enjoy the last half of the book as much. While the idea is intriguing and has great potential, the execution was a bit flawed. I found myself confused by what was occurring and I think part of that reveals Coates' limitations as a debut novelist. As soon as he departs from realistic fiction and wades into magic realism, the quality of the writing begins to change. Magic realism demands artistry and while Coates writes beautifully, I was unconvinced in many moments of the text. It was such a stark departure from the painstakingly detailed world Coates crafted in the first half of the book. I also agree with other reviewers that the ending is a bit too tidy. I found it unsatisfying considering the amount of emotion, memory, and weight the first half of the book carried.

Overall, I absolutely recommend this book and will continue to eagerly await what Coates publishes next.

Sep 29, 2019

I’d like to read this series of books. Can I please be emailed with the notification when it becomes available for pickup?

debwalker Sep 17, 2019

Who gets to be an American hero? Ta-Nehisi Coates (author, journalist, comic book writer) infuses historical fiction with magic.


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