"Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage--and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child--but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn't understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram's private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he's ever known. So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery that takes Hiram from thecorrupt grandeur of Virginia's proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he's enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, all Hiram wants is to return to the Walker Plantation to free the family he left behind--but to do so, he must first master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss. This is a bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author's bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, The Water Dancer is the story of America's oldest struggle--the struggle to tell the truth--from one of our most exciting thinkers and beautiful writers"-- - (Baker & Taylor)
A Virginia slave narrowly escapes a drowning death through the intervention of a mysterious force that compels his escape and personal underground war against slavery. By the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me. (historical fiction). (This book was listed in a previous issue of Forecast.) Tour. - (Baker & Taylor)
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER &; 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
NOMINATED FOR THE NAACP IMAGE AWARD &; NAMED ONE OF PASTE&;S BEST NOVELS OF THE DECADE &; NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Time &; NPR &; The Washington Post &; Chicago Tribune &; Vanity Fair &; Esquire &; Good Housekeeping &; Paste &; Town & Country &; The New York Public Library &; Kirkus Reviews &; Library Journal
&;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.
Praise for The Water Dancer
&;Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most important essayist in a generation and a writer who changed the national political conversation about race with his 2015 memoir, Between the World and Me. So naturally his debut novel comes with slightly unrealistic expectations&;and then proceeds to exceed them. The Water Dancer . . . is a work of both staggering imagination and rich historical significance. . . . What&;s most powerful is the way Coates enlists his notions of the fantastic, as well as his fluid prose, to probe a wound that never seems to heal. . . . Timeless and instantly canon-worthy.&;&;Rolling Stone - (Random House, Inc.)
ï»¿And I could only have seen her there on the stone bridge, a dancer wreathed in ghostly blue, because that was the way they would have taken her back when I was young, back when the Virginia earth was still red as brick and red with life, and though there were other bridges spanning the river Goose, they would have bound her and brought her across this one, because this was the bridge that fed into the turnpike that twisted its way through the green hills and down the valley before bending in one direction, and that direction was south.
I had always avoided that bridge, for it was stained with the remembrance of the mothers, uncles, and cousins gone Natchez-way. But knowing now the awesome power of memory, how it can open a blue door from one world to another, how it can move us from mountains to meadows, from green woods to fields caked in snow, knowing now that memory can fold the land like cloth, and knowing, too, how I had pushed my memory of her into the 'down there of my mind, how I forgot, but did not forget, I know now that this story, this Conduction, had to begin there on that fantastic bridge between the land of the living and the land of the lost.
And she was patting juba on the bridge, an earthen jar on her head, a great mist rising from the river below nipping at her bare heels, which pounded the cobblestones, causing her necklace of shells to shake. The earthen jar did not move; it seemed almost a part of her, so that no matter her high knees, no matter her dips and bends, her splaying arms, the jar stayed fixed on her head like a crown. And seeing this incredible feat, I knew that the woman patting juba, wreathed in ghostly blue, was my mother.
No one else saw hernot Maynard, who was then in the back of the new Millennium chaise, not the fancy girl who held him rapt with her wiles, and, most strange, not the horse, though I had been told that horses had a nose for things that stray out from other worlds and stumble into ours. No, only I saw her from the driver's seat of the chaise, and she was just as they'd described her, just as they'd said she'd been in the olden days when she would leap into a circle of all my peopleAunt Emma, Young P, Honas, and Uncle Johnand they would clap, pound their chests, and slap their knees, urging her on in double time, and she would stomp the dirt floor hard, as if crushing a crawling thing under her heel, and bend at the hips and bow, then twist and wind her bent knees in union with her hands, the earthen jar still on her head. My mother was the best dancer at Lockless, that is what they told me, and I remembered this because she'd gifted me with none of it, but more I remembered because it was dancing that brought her to the attention of my father, and thus had brought me to be. And more than that, I remembered because I remembered everythingeverything, it seemed, except her.
It was autumn, now, the season when the races came south. That afternoon Maynard had scored on a long-shot thoroughbred, and thought this might, at last, win the esteem of Virginia Quality he sought. But when he made the circuit around the great town square, leaning back, way back in the chaise and grinning large, the men of society turned their back to him and puffed on their cigars. There were no salutes. He was what he would always beMaynard the Goof, Maynard the Lame, Maynard the Fool, the rotten apple who'd fallen many miles from the tree. He fumed and had me drive to the old house at the edge of our town, Starfall, where he purchased himself a night with a fancy, and had the bright notion to bring her back to the big house at Lockless, and, most fatefully, in a sudden bout of shame, insisted on leaving the back way out of town, down Dumb Silk Road, until it connected to that old turnpike, which led us back to the bank of the river Goose.
A cold steady rain fell as I drove, the water dripping down from the brim of my hat, puddling on my trousers. I could hear Maynard in the back, with all his games, putting his carnal boasts upon the fancy. I was pushing the horse as hard as I could, because all I wanted was to be home and free of Maynard's voice, though I could never, in this life, be free of him. Maynard who held my chain. Maynard, my brother who was made my master. And I was trying all I could to not hear, searching for distraction'memories of corn-shucking or young games of blind man's bluff. What I remember is how those distractions never came, but instead there was a sudden silence, erasing not just Maynard's voice, but all the small sounds of the world around. And now, peering into the pigeonhole of my mind, what I found were remembrances of the lost'men holding strong on watch-night, and women taking their last tour of the apple orchards, spinsters remanding their own gardens to others, old codgers cursing the great house of Lockless. Legions of the lost, brought across that baleful bridge, legions embodied in my dancing mother.
I yanked at the reins but it was too late. We barreled right through and what happened next shook forever my sense of a cosmic order. But I was there and saw it happen, and have since seen a great many things that expose the ends of our knowledge and how much more lies beyond it.
The road beneath the wheels disappeared, and the whole of the bridge fell away, and for a moment I felt myself floating on, or maybe in, the blue light. And it was warm there, and I remember that brief warmth because just as suddenly as I floated out, I was in the water, under the water, and even as I tell you this now, I feel myself back there again, in the icy bite of that river Goose, the water rushing into me, and that particular burning agony that comes only to the drowning.
There is no sensation like drowning, because the feeling is not merely the agony, but a bewilderment at so alien a circumstance. The mind believes that there should be air, since there is always air to be had, and the urge to breathe is such a matter of instinct that it requires a kind of focus to belay the order. Had I leapt from the bridge myself, I could have accounted for my new situation. Had I even fallen over the side, I would have understood, if only because this would have been imaginable. But it was as though I had been shoved out of a window right into the depths of the river. There was no warning. I kept trying to breathe. I remember crying out for breath and more I remember the agony of the answer, the agony of water rushing into me, and how I answered that agony by heaving, which only invited more water.
But somehow I steadied my thoughts, somehow I came to understand that all my thrashing could only but hasten my demise. And with that accomplished, I noted that there was light in one direction and darkness in another and deduced that the dark was the depths and the light was not. I whipped my legs behind me, and stretched out my arms toward the light, pulling the water until, at last, coughing, retching, I surfaced.
And when I came up, breaking through dark water, and into the diorama of the world'storm clouds hung by unseen thread, a red sun pinned low against them, and beneath that sun, hills dusted with grassI looked back at the stone bridge, which must have been, my God, a half mile away.
The bridge seemed to be almost racing away from me, because the current pulled me along and when I angled myself to swim toward the shore it was that current still, or perhaps some unseen eddy beneath, pulling me downriver. There was no sign of the woman whose time Maynard had so thoughtlessly purchased. But whatever thoughts I had on her behalf were broken by Maynard making himself known, as he had so often, with hue and cry, determined to go out of this world in the selfsame manner that he'd passed through it. He was close by, pulled by the same current. He thrashed in the waves, yelled, treaded a bit, and then disappeared under, only to reappear again seconds later, yelling, half treading, thrashing.
"Help me, Hi!"
There I was, my own life dangling over the black pit, and now being called to save another. I had, on many occasions, tried to teach Maynard to swim, and he took to this instruction as he took to all instruction, careless and remiss at the labor, then sore and bigoted when this negligence bore no fruit. I can now say that slavery murdered him, that slavery made a child of him, and now, dropped into a world where slavery held no sway, Maynard was dead the minute he touched water. I had always been his protection. It was I, only by good humor, and debasement, that had kept Charles Lee from shooting him; and it was I, with special appeal to our father, who'd kept him countless times from wrath; and it was I who clothed him every morning; and I who put him to bed every night; and it was I who now was tired, in both body and soul; and it was I, out there, wrestling against the pull of the current, against the fantastic events that had deposited me there, and now wrestling with the demand that I, once again, save another, when I could not even conjure the energy to save myself.
"Help me! he yelled again, and then he cried out, Please! He said it like the child he always was, begging. And I noted, however uncharitably, even there in the Goose facing my own death, that I had never before recalled him speaking in a manner that reflected the true nature of our positions.
*Starred Review* Hiram Walker is the son of an enslaved woman and her slave master, owner of a prominent Virginia estate. When Hiram is nearly killed in a drowning accident, he detects an amazing gift he cannot understand or harness. He travels between worlds, gone but not gone, and sees his mother, Rose, who was sold away when he was a child. Despite this astonishing vision, he cannot remember much about Rose. His power and his memory are major forces that propel Hiram into an adulthood filled with the hypocrisy of slavery, including the requisite playacting that flavors a stew of complex relationships. Struggling with his own longing for freedom, Hiram finds his affiliations tested with Thena, the taciturn old woman who took him in as a child; Sophia, a young woman fighting against her fate on the plantation; and Hiram's father who obliquely acknowledges him as a son. Throughout his courageous journey north and participation in the underground battle for liberation, Hiram struggles to match his gift with his mission. Coates (We Were Eight Years in Power, 2017) 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.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling MacArthur fellow Coates has an avid following and his turn to fiction will bring in even more readers. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
MacArthur Fellow Coates, author of the National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me, turns to fiction with this story of the enslaved Hiram Walker, who can't remember the mother he lost young but is blessed with mysterious powers. After crashing a carriage into the river, he is saved by a blue light that carries him far from the scene and thereafter is determined to join the war on slavery, escape the plantation, and rescue the family he made for himself there. At first look, luminous writing.
Copyright 2019 Library Journal.
Library Journal Reviews
DEBUT This ambitious fiction debut by social critic Coates (Between the World and Me) features a protagonist with what might be called superpowers, not surprising from the man who brought The Black Panther back to life. Son of an enslaved African American woman and her owner, Hiram Walker grew up with conditional freedom, charged with being his slow-witted white brother Maynard's handler. The book begins with Maynard's death and focuses mainly on Hiram's efforts to piece together what happened that fateful night and how he himself escaped Maynard's fate. In passages sometimes weighty with philosophizing, Hiram becomes involved with the Virginia Underground Railroad, discovering that he has a skill called conduction that allows him to transport runaway slaves, as well as his loved ones, to safety in the free states. The two vital components of conduction are water and memories, and like most of us, Hiram has some memories he'd rather not revisit. VERDICT Coates cites Toni Morrison and E.L. Doctorow as huge influences in writing this book, and the scope and seriousness on display here would make them both proud. The author can be didactic, unable to escape the weight of his message, but when he allows the action to unfold, the story becomes a work of wonder. Essential for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.]—Stephen Schmidt, Greenwich Lib., CT
Copyright 2019 Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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. (Sept.)
Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.