THE NEW YORK TIMES #1 BESTSELLER
OPRAH BOOK CLUB PICK
'One of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. I haven't felt this way since I first read Beloved . . .' Oprah Winfrey
Lose yourself in the stunning debut novel everyone is talking about - the unmissable historical story of injustice and redemption that resonates powerfully today
Hiram Walker is a man with a secret, and a war to win. A war for the right to life, to family, to freedom.
Born into bondage on a Virginia plantation, he is also born gifted with a mysterious power that he won't discover until he is almost a man, when he risks everything for a chance to escape. One fateful decision will carry him away from his makeshift plantation family and into the heart of the underground war on slavery...
'A transcendent work from a crucial political and literary artist' Diana Evans
'I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates' Toni Morrison
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
When she announced The Water Dancer as her Book Club pick, Oprah explained that “through the world of magical realism, the book allows us to experience what it felt like to be enslaved.” We couldn’t agree more: Every era has its essential truth tellers and we’re lucky to live in the time of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has an unparalleled gift for illuminating the shame of racism in America. With his stunning first novel, Coates displays the same gift of storytelling he has brought to non-fiction. (The impactful Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award in the U.S.) The Water Dancer follows Hiram Walker, an enslaved man in Virginia who is both scrutinised and celebrated for his intellect. When Hiram is captured during an escape attempt, he discovers an unexpected kind of freedom. As always, Coates is fluent in the devastating poetry of unspeakable loss, but he invests Walker’s journey with moments of wonder and possibility. This sweeping epic is a story of nearly unfathomable brutality that’s seeded with hope—and even joy.
Coates (We Were Eight Years in Power) makes his ambitious fiction debut with this wonderful novel that follows Hiram Walker, a boy with an extraordinary memory. Born on a Virginia plantation, he realizes at five that he has a photographic recall except where it concerns his mother, Rose, who was sold and whom he can only reconstruct through what others tell him. Born to Rose and Howell Walker, master and owner of Lockless, the land Hiram works, Hiram is called up at age 12 to the house to serve Maynard, his half-brother. When the novel opens, Hiram is 19, and he and Maynard are on their way back to Lockless when the bridge they're traveling over collapses. Deep in the river, Hiram is barraged with visions of his ancestors, and finally a woman water-dancing, whom he recognizes as his mother. After he wakes up, mysteriously saved even as Maynard dies, Hiram yearns for a life beyond "the unending night of slavery." But when his plans to escape with Sophia, the woman he loves, are dashed by betrayal and violence, Hiram is inducted into the Underground, the secret network of agents working to liberate slaves. Valued for his literacy and for the magical skill the Underground believes he possesses, Hiram comes to learn that the fight for freedom comes with its own sacrifices and restrictions. 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.
Thoughtful and Poetic
Wonderful, thoughtful, and poetic. An unexpected twist to US slavery. The subject is always a tough read but this book is made softer without losing the unthinkable realities. I want to read more about the rise and fall of the pre civil war Virginia economy.
Amazing and Inspirational
There were many heart-breaking tragedies yet powerful and marvellous redemptions for an amazingly triumphant story.
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.