Hiram has a gift. He can remember everything, everything he has ever seen and everything that has ever happened to him. The only thing he can’t remember is his mother. When she is sold into slavery, he is separated from her at just five years old. This experience bestows upon him a power that he is yet to understand the full greatness of. It’s not until he experiences a brush with death which urges him to seek freedom that he will learn the extent of his abilities.
“for this was a time in our history when the most valuable thing a man could own, in all of America, was another man.”
There’s no denying Ta-Nehisi Coates is a fantastic writer. Having written several prize-winning non-fiction books, The Water Dancer is Coates’ first foray into fiction, and hopefully there is plenty more to come.
The Water Dancer perfectly intertwines the genres of magical realism and historical fiction. The magical realism in the novel is written beautifully and the imagery it evokes is so vivid. The magical aspects are slowly introduced, and I liked they were not just presented as fact. We learned about them alongside Hiram, rather than being left to understand it for ourselves.
The characters in this novel are fantastically written, and I particularly liked the relationship dynamic between Hiram and Sophia. Hiram’s eventual self-awareness when it came to his lack of acknowledgement of Sophia’s autonomy was a moment I enjoyed in particular, as was Sophia’s continued refusal to belong to anyone. Thena was an excellent character too, and I liked how Coates portrayed her reluctantly taking on the role of care giver in Hiram’s life. She managed to come across as so warm despite her distance. I also thought Hiram’s idolisation of his father was dealt with particularly well, capturing the complex feelings that must form in the dichotomy of having an instinctive attachment towards his parent, but a parent that was literally his slave master. Finally, Coates’ interrogation of the concept of the ‘white saviour’ character was fantastically done with Corrinne, whilst his homage to Harriett Tubman was thoughtful and powerful.
An incredibly strong fiction debut from a powerhouse of an author that’s left me eager for more of Coates’ fiction writing.
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
The Water Dancer is out now in the US, or on February 6th in the UK.
*I received a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*