Book Review – The Water Dancer

I had read The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates about a year ago (yes, I’m that behind on reviews) and discussed it in a local book club. It turns out that it was also a selection in Oprah’s book club and debuted in the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Joe Morton.

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Here is the blurb:

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.

It is hard for me to avoid comparing this book to Octavia Butler’s Kindred (which I had also recently read, a little before this book). The themes are similar, and though they could both be categorized as speculative fiction, the magical aspect is mostly a vehicle to address the horrors of slavery and racism in the Antebellum south.

I felt like this book lacked the tension of Kindred (although without that comparison, it was still a good read). Hiram struggles to understand his mysterious power and come to terms with his family relationships. Overall this was a gratifying read on some uncomfortable topics and is well-worth picking up.

Have you read either The Water Dancer or Kindred? How do you think the two books compare? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

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