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The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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5942926,342 (4.13)33
"Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage--and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child--but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn't understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram's private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he's ever known. So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery 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, all Hiram wants is to return to the Walker Plantation to free the family he left behind--but to do so, he must first master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss. This is a bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author's bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, The Water Dancer is the story of America's oldest struggle--the struggle to tell the truth--from one of our most exciting thinkers and beautiful writers"--… (more)
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    The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (g33kgrrl)
    g33kgrrl: Two amazing authors, two different literary approaches to the underground railroad, two stories, one terrible time in US history.

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
More realism than magical about Virginian quality folks and Taskers (slaves). I liked it better than the horrifying stories of the Underground Railroad by Colan Whitehead. Well developed characters- Sophia, Thena and Corrine the white abolitionist. Conduction is like dancing on water ( )
  bblum | Jan 9, 2020 |
Young Hiram Walker is born a slave. His mother was sold away, but his father is the plantation owner. He was raised by an older slave woman but as a young teen is brought up to the big house to help take care of his half brother, the heir to the plantation. Hiram's story moves from Virginia to the Underground, to Philadelphia, and back. He has a mysterious power that makes him important to those who are fighting to help people in bondage escape.

The best novel I read this year. Coates' use of a bit of magical realism does not distract from his powerful story of love, loss, freedom, and bondage. ( )
  rglossne | Jan 6, 2020 |
Really wanted to love this, but fell short. Story focuses on the Underground railroad, after a long walk to get there, and it just didn’t fit together for me. Felt like it was several ideas jammed into one—At some point I thought it was largely going to be historical fiction life of Harriet Tubman. Started well enough, but then was sputtering through stop and goes. Considered abandoning it about halfway through, but stuck through the end.

All that said, the story might fail, yet Coates was able to produce a fine book about the pains of slavery. My notion that more Americans need this imagined visualization I personally would recommend Collision Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad” over this.

Listened to as audiobook. Loved the performance of the narrator. ( )
  rdwhitenack | Jan 6, 2020 |
All historical fiction is just that – fiction, and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehesi Coates is no exception. The fiction label allows history to be massaged into a compelling story. However, this history itself is so compelling that it needs no embellishment especially not one based in magic. That concern aside, aspects of the writing pull me right into the middle of the story. That is the history that speaks to me in this book and gives it its power.

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2020/01/the-water-dancer.html

Reviewed for #NetGalley. ( )
  njmom3 | Jan 4, 2020 |
Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel, called The Water Dancer, is a lyrical adventure of a terrible time in our country's history. Mid 19th century slavery is depicted in the first person narrative of Hiram Walker, who lives on a plantation in Virginia, one owned by his white father and going to be left to Maynard, his half brother. In a twinge of genetics though, it is Hiram, whose mother was raped and sold down the Natchez, who has the intelligence and the amazing ability to memorize everything. This ability was first used to amuse the guests at the elaborate dinner parties during the prosperous times before they used up the rich red soil with continuos tobacco farming. But his skill was then noticed by Maynard's tutor, Mr Field, and this relationship becomes an important aspect of Hiram's future education- that of working for the Underground. Some great characters are drawn in the narrative, especially that of Hiram's caregiver, Thena ("Even when she swung her broom at us, I sensed the depth of that loss, her pain, a rage that she, unlike the rest of us, refused to secret away, and I found that rage to be true and correct. She was not the meanest woman at Lockless, but the most honest.") the other character of note is Sophia another slave who he is drawn to: "I was young and love to me was a fuse that was lit, not a garden that was grown." His relationship with Sophia is challenged by the fact that he is the one who must drive her to meet "Uncle Nathaniel" for their special arrangements.
In addition to his intelligence, Hiram also possess the ability of conduction where through the power of memory he is able to transport to another place. The power of memory plays an important role in the novel and Hiram must confront his own memory of his mother before he can complete his full purpose in life.
I thought the novel got better as it moved along, depicting Philadelphia in its heyday of free blacks interacting with the myriad of business on the docks of the schuykill I also enjoyed the development of his relation with Sophia as he comes to realize that loving someone is not another form of ownership. I found the interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air to be a nice follow up to some of the rationale for the author's choice of magical realism. I would recommend a listen to better understand the development of this powerful narrative.

Some lines:

I was just then beginning to understand the great valley separating the Quality and the Tasked—that the Tasked, hunched low in the fields, carrying the tobacco from hillock to hogshead, led backbreaking lives and that the Quality who lived in the house high above, the seat of Lockless, did not.

I now knew the truth—that Maynard’s folly, though more profane, was unoriginal. The masters could not bring water to boil, harness a horse, nor 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.

And once they do it, they got you. They catch you with the babies, tie you to the place by your own blood and all, until you got too much to let go of to go.

“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. Sometimes it take more than other times, and on those former times, well, you seen what happened. I have made this jump so many times before, though. No idea why this one socked me so.” ( )
  novelcommentary | Jan 1, 2020 |
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My part has been to tell the story of the slave. The story of the master never wanted for narrators. -Frederick Douglass
For Chana
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And I could only have seen her there on the stone bridge, a dancer wreathed in ghostly blue, because that was the way they would have taken her back when I was young, back when the Virginia earth was still red as brick and red with life, and though there were other bridges spanning the river Goose, they would have bound her and brought her across this one, because this was the bridge that fed into the turnpike that twisted its way through the green hills and down the valley before bending in one direction, and that direction was south.
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