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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.
Advance 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)
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
When Oprah announced The Water Dancer as her Book Club pick, she 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 scrutinized 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Good overall, ending a bit abrupt
Overall, a good read. The author’s prose is beautiful, and does an excellent job of transporting you to an unimaginable place and time. That’s not surprising, given the poetic style he’s used writing columns for the Atlantic. The ending felt a bit abrupt, and as if something more could have been achieved with it, but the work overall was truly impressive for a first novel.
Don’t get it
The book got canceled for no reason don’t get