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Every slave plantation is a house of spies and intrigue. No slave walks a straight line or has a single story - deep within their hearts is betrayal and insurrection. But against whom?
Hiram Walker is a man with a gift and a curse. He was born between worlds: his father a white plantation master, his mother a black slave. And, unbeknown even to himself, he was born with a special power. When he is sold to a new mistress as punishment for attempting escape, Hiram discovers her home is a secret hub of the underground railroad: a training ground for its agents.
Hiram fast becomes a highly skilled agent, retrieving the enslaved from the most dangerous circumstances and gradually learning to harness his power - but betrayals lurk everywhere. And eventually Hiram must risk everything to return to his father's plantation and free the friends he left behind.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) pens a powerful fable of slavery and racism in his debut novel, mixing elements of magic realism with his trademark social and cultural commentary. Much like Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, The Water Dancer puts a fresh spin on the escaped-slave narrative. Coates tells the story of Hiram Walker’s dangerous break for freedom—and his bid to reunite his family—without ever using words like “slave” or “master,” giving the book a timeless, archetypal feel that contains echoes of both ancient folk myths and modern-day superheroes. Scandal co-star Joe Morton’s gripping narration enhances the suspense and excitement of Hiram’s journey from unforgiving brutality to wondrous hope. He does an amazing job highlighting the sheer beauty of Coates’ storytelling, even breaking into song in some especially memorable scenes.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Working on the railroad
African-American. Award-winning journalist, mainly for The Atlantic, and non-fiction writer. Between the World and Me (2015) was a best seller, and a finalist for the National Book Award. This is his first novel.
A gifted boy born into slavery on a Virginia tobacco plantation in the mid-1800s suffers through plenty to make good in the end.
Hiram Walker, son a slave mother and plantation owner father, remembers little of his mother (the eponymous dancer) who was sold when he was very young. He remembers lots of other stuff though, and discovers an apparently miraculous gift during his journey through appalling privation and maltreatment and escape via the Underground Railroad.
All the significant ones are developed expertly, and sympathetically, by Mr Coates.
Mr Coates is a master craftsman. His descriptions and use of metaphor are remarkable. I was less convinced when he dipped into magic realism, but that probably has more to do with my feelings about magic realism than the quality with which it is executed here.
I presume Mr Coates was already working on this when Colson Whitehead published The Underground Railroad in 2016. It could be argued that the world did not need a second novel on the same topic a couple of years later, but this is sufficiently different to make it a worthy addition to the canon. If I were into magic realism, I might have given it five stars, but I’m not, so I didn’t.