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

IN DEVELOPMENT AS A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE * Adapted by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kamilah Forbes, produced by MGM, Plan B, and Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films

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 Post * Chicago Tribune * Vanity Fair * Esquire * Good Housekeeping * Paste * Town & Country * The New York Public Library * Kirkus Reviews * Library Journal

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
Publisher: New York : One World, [2019]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9780399590597
0399590595
Branch Call Number: COATES T
Characteristics: 403 pages ; 25 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

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LPL_ShirleyB Sep 14, 2020

Read an immersive tale to celebrate the Underground Railroad.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first work of fiction is as beautiful and wise as his essays!

"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."

Comment
LPL_LeahN Jul 13, 2020

"The jump is done by the power of the story. It pulls from our particular histories, from all of our loves and all of our losses, all of that feeling is called up and on the strength of our remembrances, we are moved." This is Conduction.

This book is purely and simply a revelation. T... Read More »

List - Conjure Women
LPL_ShirleyB Apr 22, 2020

With water and memory, Hiram Walker becomes a powerful Underground Railroad conductor. This is Coats fiction debut, influenced by Toni Morrison and E.L. Doctorow. Awarded the Audie Award for Literary Fiction & Classics, Published in September 2019


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c
Cidherman
Jan 09, 2021

THE WATER DANCER is a beautifully written book that speaks from the heart about the ravages the institution of slavery wreaked upon the human spirit and decency itself. I loved UNCLE TOM'S CABIN and years after reading it, it remains my favorite book. THE WATER DANCER shares many similarities with that classic.

The lyrical writing and magical realism that follow Hiram Walker from his life as a slave, to freedom in the north, pulls you into a world where power is skewed and undeserving men determine the lives of everyone around them, ripping families apart at will, without guilt or conscience. Hiram Walker returns to the white father that held him in slavery and the fading tobacco plantation he grew up on as an agent of The Underground Railroad. He has one goal: to free the ones he loves from the oppression of slavery!

In his travels, he comes into contact with important historical figures, including Harriet Tubman. This is a amazing story. Read it!!!

IndyPL_JoniMK Nov 28, 2020

After reading a three-star review of Water Dancer, I had to write my own and give Water Dancer five stars: Though he usually writes non-fiction, Coates ‘attempt’ at historical science fiction is better than many other books by many other authors out there and puts him squarely in the group of other wonderful writers I have been enjoying this year: Colson Whitehead, Richard Wright, Jesmyn Ward, and Alice Walker.
Hiram’s world in Water Dancer reminds me of Janie Crawford’s world in Zoe Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and of Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy. And also of the many motivations behind the African-American diaspora recounted in Isabel Wright’s account of The Great Migration. He does use the frame of the Underground Railroad for the plot—a topic at once tired, sacrosanct, and trending. Like many people, I wondered whether he could make that work. Then, like Colson Whitehead, he pulled it off with the panache and flair of a seasoned SF writer.
I’m fascinated about the role of African-Americans in the Philadelphia malarial plague of 1793 and about how “the story of the White family takes the real-life saga of William and Peter Still and their family as its inspiration.” I plan to read further on the source material Coates has credited. The movement of slave-holders and slaves from tired land on the east coast to places in Kentucky and further south is also a topic of interest.
In the living, breathing character of Hiram, I think that Coates has achieved what few writers have done--created a character whose ambivalence and awareness is always growing: He faces the world of the Task throughout. He carefully examines the damage done to all of the people he has known and loved in his life. He lives, as far as possible, an examined and authentic life. The limits, fears, hopes, dreams, physical debilitation, casual rape, and emotional suffering of slavery, ‘the Task,’ are all here in a swirl of the best descriptive language and imaging available—they have the weight of the supernatural and superhuman. Hiram’s personal struggle to have a vision/solution to his particular set of problems continually sets him apart: He seems way past being able to know and protect the people he loves in a consistent manner—the Task keeps rolling on—the laundry.

b
Bookworm1136
Sep 20, 2020

4 1/2 star read. This Oprah book club selection was a very different and engrossing read. Coates tells the story of Hiram Walker, a slave on the fabled Lockless plantation in Virginia. Hiram is a servant to his half brother Maynard and is a motherless boy, as his master sold his mother off. His journey begins with a tragic accident that could have killed him, but didn't. He realizes he has a special power but knows little about it. But others suspect he has the power and involve him in the Underground Railroad in hopes that he can uses his power to liberate others like himself. This book is heartfelt and an absorbing read. I thought it was quite a beautiful read about the time of slavery in the South.

m
mighty_mom
Sep 16, 2020

Not a fan if the mystical elements woven into this story, as it seems to downgrade the work of Harriet Tubman. There are nice poetic turns, but I was surprised that the author didn't tell us what the protagonist looked like until the end of the story. I believe this book is an Oprah's book club selection because of the subject matter, but not because of great writing skills. This is an interesting story, but not a classic

LPL_ShirleyB Sep 14, 2020

Read an immersive tale to celebrate the Underground Railroad.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first work of fiction is as beautiful and wise as his essays!

JCLBetM Aug 29, 2020

An interesting read that nevertheless seemed to keep me at arms length throughout. I appreciated getting a better perspective of the different experiences slaves endured, and I wondered if because the characters had to section off their emotions if the author was writing in a way to create that same experience in the reader. I cared, but it was as if I was held back from being able to care too much. Not sure if that makes sense. The magical realism aspects were creative, but kind of took me out of the story. It was an interesting way to consider Harriet Tubman, but I almost felt it discounted the bravery and cleverness and strength required to actually cover all the miles that she trudged by foot. All in all - definitely worth reading, and probably a good choice for a book club because there are lots of things to discuss. And the bonus of listening to it on audiobook is the reader actually sings the snippets of songs--a definite plus.

n
nikkeshiawilson
Aug 25, 2020

Magical realism is an infusion of magical into reality, hence the term. It's usage lends itself to the awe and wonder of a woman that freed many enslaved during a terrible time in US history. It's not a literary device everyone will enjoy, but it is such an intriguing way to explore Harriet Tubman. I love reading Coates for his ability to infuse this real world and its troubles into his fictional works. Highly recommend this incredible book.

LPL_LeahN Jul 13, 2020

"The jump is done by the power of the story. It pulls from our particular histories, from all of our loves and all of our losses, all of that feeling is called up and on the strength of our remembrances, we are moved." This is Conduction.

This book is purely and simply a revelation. Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story of one man's experiences with the legendary Underground with top shelf style and imagination. He turns a phrase like only a poet can, everything from the imagery of the deep south to the emotional turmoil of a freed man turned back to slavery serves as a means of reader Conduction to Lockless Plantation.

The ease with which the reader is immersed in this world make it one of the best works of magical realism I've ever read. But it's the story of Hiram and the Underground itself, tackling themes like ancestral rage, white allyship, and feminism that make it one of the most important.

a
AnnSkye
Jul 11, 2020

An excellent read.

a
amsites
Jul 10, 2020

I ended up renting the audio version and I’m so glad I did. It took a little bit to get into the book but once I did I loved it. It was also cool that it included some magical realism. I would suggest this book.

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clancy_pants
Feb 13, 2020

'Way I see it, ain't no pure and it is we who are blessed, for we know this.'

'Blessed, huh?'

'Blessed, for we do not bear the weight of pretending pure[...]I would live down here among my losses, among the muck and mess of it, before I would ever live among those who are in their own kind of muck but are so blinded by it they fancy it pure. Ain't no pure[...]Ain't no clean.'" (293)

m
merritr
Feb 13, 2020

“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 [the white Master of the plantation] would allow them to do.”

m
merritr
Feb 13, 2020

“The masters could not bring water to boil, harness a horse or strap their own drawers without us. We were better than them. We had to be. Sloth was literal death for us, while for them it was the whole ambition of their lives.”

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