ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
The water-breathing descendants of African slave women tossed overboard have built their own underwater society—and must reclaim the memories of their past to shape their future in this brilliantly imaginative novella inspired by the Hugo Award–nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’s rap group clipping
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
Inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The Deep is vividly original and uniquely affecting.
This extraordinary short novel is at least the third creative iteration of a premise built on the documented drowning of pregnant African women by white male slave traders. Imagining that the infants survived as a community of mer-people was the contribution of the techno group Drexciya. In turn, the experimental rap group Clipping (Diggs, Hutson, and Snipes) was inspired to collaboratively develop "The Deep," a song about conflict between people of the sea and people of the land. Now Solomon (An Unkindness of Ghosts) steps forward with a prose version that is by turns meditative, didactic, and rawly angry. The focus is Yetu, a historian for an undersea community that calls itself wajinru and cultivates collective forgetfulness of its agonizing past, backstopped by the one member who bears the burden of holding the entire community's memories. It is too much for Yetu, and amid the excruciating annual ritual of sharing out and then taking back the rememberings, she flees her people. Her burden of memory is lifted, but her burden of responsibility has only shifted, as her choice to free herself from her role has devastating consequences. Solomon interrogates the devastations of slavery without ever showing a white perspective, in a tour de force reorientation of the storytelling gaze. This superb, multilayered work will speak to any empathetic reader, and be best appreciated by those steeped in its cultural and artistic context.
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Touched my soul
When I first saw this book cover I got so excited because of the mermaid on the front. I live mermaids. Then while reading, I saw it had a much deeper meaning than the reader could possibly comprehend from just the excerpt or first look. I’m ashamed to say, but I had to research about slaves being thrown into the sea. I don’t know why I never thought about the voyage part to their destination. I think because so much history and movies only show what happened after they reached their destination. This book really touched my soul. My mind has trouble even thinking about what was done to human beings. But it’s not something we should ever forget either. The author took something horrific and added a touch of her own magic and made it into something that will make any age want to read. I thank her for this. This book should be in all libraries and required reading at schools.