Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Water Dancer” as Want to Read:
The Water Dancer
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Water Dancer

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  28,901 ratings  ·  3,907 reviews
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
Hardcover, 403 pages
Published September 24th 2019 by One World
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Water Dancer, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
BMR, LCSW I think it is. No overt sexuality, but some graphic violence when slaves are being beaten. Students should read it after reading "Stolen," by Richard…moreI think it is. No overt sexuality, but some graphic violence when slaves are being beaten. Students should read it after reading "Stolen," by Richard Bell.(less)
Chris Ta-Nahisi Coats did a great deal of research for this book (as he's discussed in interviews), which really shines through every page. The fantasy…moreTa-Nahisi Coats did a great deal of research for this book (as he's discussed in interviews), which really shines through every page. The fantasy component involving the main character is woven into the historical fiction quite well. Unlike Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, The Water Dancer doesn't make me feel like I'm reading a completely alternate reality/history.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  28,901 ratings  ·  3,907 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Water Dancer
Nilufer Ozmekik
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m giving those stars in shame, hands shaking as I push them to the key board and clicked: 3 shiny stars. Then I started to run away, dropping down my phone as if someone gave me a daily chore to clean up the entire house and I’m escaping from secret big hole at my wall hid behind Rita Hayworth poster. (That’s my shawshanking glory run, my dear friends)

When I started this book and captivated by those lyrical, emotional, poetic, amazing words created its own magic, I thought I was falling in
Emily May
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Ta-Nehisi Coates is an amazing non-fiction writer. His Between the World and Me is an extraordinary work that should be required reading. He has this way of making a non-fiction piece flow like poetry and you would think an author who writes non-fiction like Coates does - so poetic and compelling - would transition well to fiction.

But this book never quite felt like a novel to me, even with the magical realism elements. It is slow, introspective, ruminative… I am stuck feeling like Coates
Chaima ✨ شيماء

"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
Angela M
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
At its core, this novel is a story of slavery, the shameful injustice, horrific treatment of human beings, of the amazing guts and guile of the people in the Underground transporting people to freedom, in the south of the 1860’s. This is such a powerful story depicting the life of slaves on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, highlighting throughout the gut wrenching separation of children from their mothers, separation of fathers and children, husbands and wives. The writing is beautiful
A breathtakingly imaginative, lyrical and well researched antebellum historical fiction debut novel, infused with magical realism from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Follow the life of the extraordinary enslaved Hiram Walker, the black son of Howell Walker, plantation owner in Virginia, whose mother is sold by his father at the tender age of 9, gifted with the ability to remember everything, except memories of his mother, and later the power of conduction. A new vocabulary is created for slaves and whites, ...more
Diane S ☔
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
If you've read his non fiction than you know what a powerfully this author writes. I was so curious about his first first foray into fiction. Would it be as good, as powerful? For me the answer is yes.

This is a vividly portrayed and imaginative slave narrative. It takes place mostly in Virginia at a plantation called Lockless. Hiram is our narrator, he remembers little of his mother and he is the black son of the plantation owner. He also possesses a remarkable memory, and another unusual
Chelsea Humphrey
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Chelsea by: karen
Obviously I'm the worst at coming back to review those pesky RTC placeholders, but I felt the need to say a few words regarding this one. Even though I can't remember any specific quotes this far removed, I will always remember how moving the narrative is, how engaging the writing was, and how necessary, important, and timely this story will continue to be. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!
Elyse  Walters
Sep 26, 2019 rated it liked it
The beginning pulled me in right away.... but then at some point I found myself forcing to read it.

Poetic writing - brutal powerful history - but rather than being worried the subject would be too emotionally heavy to experience...
I failed in getting the jell-O to gel.

One of the most gorgeous book covers I’ve seen all year!!!!

An Oprah pick!
A beautiful man-of- a human being who wrote it.
I enjoyed his YouTube interviews more than the book.
Oct 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-releases
“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”
—Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel, The Water Dancer, a young enslaved man named Hiram Walker gets involved in the Underground Railroad. His personal resistance manifests in Conduction, an incipient mystical power which—if only Hiram could master it—would enable him to spirit people away from their bondage.

For me, this premise immediately calls to mind Morrison’s Song of Solomon, with its legends of (literal)
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m in the minority here so read other people’s reviews.
Up to around 35% I just loved this book.. then it went off into another direction and moved so very slow.. I kept going till 50% and could not bring myself to keep going.
I’m giving it three stars because of the part that I loved!

Thank you to Netgalley and One World for the opportunity to read this!
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a difficult novel for me to read and to review. I admit the story of Hiram Walker's life was told in an interesting way, and the writing was beautiful, however, I was unable to relate to Hiram's story as much as I would have liked to. This is the second time over the last year that I have read a novel which had my full reading attention, but which left me indifferent. If this is the case, I know I will not think about it nor will I return to it in future.
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, book-clubs
This book grabbed me from its first pages and never let me go. Hiram Walker is the son of a plantation owner. But he’s the black son, born to a slave and thus a slave himself. His mother was sold “Natchez way” when he was 9. After a near death experience as a young man, he plots to escape. Despite having a photographic memory, Hiram has lost his memories of his mother. It’s a literary device that really captures the loss of a family member to slavery .

This book is so beautifully written it
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I can't remember the last time I was this happy to close a book on its last page. Well, not literally, since I read this on my Kindle. But tapping one's finger at the last page to move on to what Amazon recommends next does not depict the same image as holdinga hardcover book in one's hand, closing it with a satisfying clap!, and exhaling a sigh of relief. I might have merely tapped my finger on the screen, but believe me. I groaned a HUGE sigh of relief.

This was so bloody boring!!!!!!

I know, I
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: public-library
With beautiful words and phrases, the senses come alive with sights and sounds and smells. The heartbreak and horrors of families ripped asunder are palpable, as well. I love the image of the water dance, earthenware jars filled with water on the head, while the dancer high-steps, knees held high, dipping and bending, without spilling a drop.

I typically dig magical realism, but it did not work for me with this particular tale. I found myself slogging through, wanting it to be over. The writing
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, kindle
3.5 stars rounded up to 4

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review

If you've never experienced the beautiful magic of Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing, it's time to add him to your TBR. In his first steps into fiction, Coates brings us the tale of Hiram(Hi) Walker, a slave on a Virginia plantation in the mid-1800's. With little to no memory of his mother and the property of his white father, the owner of the plantation, Hiram soon finds
From its magical book cover art to its plot steeped in tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s novel feels like a surrendering of life and soul, as if the pages are infused with the breath of its creator, the words dancing into the human shape of those who paid the highest price. ‘The Water Dancer’ is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read about slavery. Coates nails down the suffering of slavery when he focuses on the emotions of Hiram Walker, who is separated from his Mama Rose when she is taken ...more

4.5 Stars

A beautifully shared story of the history of slavery, a world built by those purchased or born of those referred to as the Tasked under the watchful eyes of their owners, those of the Quality. While this time and place are difficult to read about, there’s a magical element to this that manages to create an atmosphere both hopeful and lovely, and helps to balance out the overall atmosphere.

”I am here, telling this story, and not from the grave, not yet, but from the
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“... Virginia, where a man would profess his love for you one moment and sell you off the next.” This book tells some of the stories of the Underground Railroad and is based on “The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts” by William Still. The author created the character of the slave Hiram Walker. Hiram was the son of his mother Rose and her master Howell Walker. After Rose was sold, Hiram was taken in by Thena, who hoped that her laundry money would buy her freedom ...more
Brenda -Traveling Sister
Oct 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I started off slow dancing and swaying to the harmonic words to the story and I was loving the depth to the story. And then instead of dancing, I found myself swimming upstream and once again lost in the magical elements to the complexity of the story. It became too much of struggle for this over busy reader and I failed to keep up with the beat of this story.

I received a copy of the publisher on NetGalley.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I struggled with the first part of this book. Overall, great writing!
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an absolutely beautiful book! The writing itself is stunning and a lot of work is put into absolutely every sentence. It deals with such heavy and heartbreaking topics and at times it is very hard to read, but also at times still feels optimistic that there are good things in this world worth fighting for such as love, family, connections, familiarity and home.

This book took me a while to read as it is very deep and character driven. This is a slow story that you are meant to take your
Ron Charles
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Presented as a slave narrative in the tradition of Frederick Douglass, “The Water Dancer” is rooted in details of pre-Civil War Virginia. But like Colson Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad,” the story’s bracing realism is periodically overcome by the mist of fantasy. The result is a budding superhero discovering the dimensions of his power within the confines of a historical novel that critiques the function of racial oppression.

That sounds like a mess — Spider-Man Takes Antietam! — but Coates
Book of the Month
Why I love it
by Casey Gerald

I am a descendant of enslaved black Americans; someone whose mother disappeared, for a time, when I was young; and, as a memoirist, I’m a writer who remembers for a living. For these reasons, I was in tears by the ninth page of The Water Dancer. What kept me turning the page was the joy I found in witnessing a story I thought I knew, told in a way I’d never seen it told before.

The novel follows Hi, a young man in the throes of slavery in Virginia, who yearns to be
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a genius.

(Seriously, he’s got the MacArthur Fellowship to prove it.) I’ve read a lot of his previous work in The Atlantic, along with Between the World and Me, so I was excited to find out that he’s chosen to branch out into historical fiction with The Water Dancer. He’s a gifted writer, and his talent shines in any genre in which he chooses to write.

The first thing that struck me in The Water Dancer was the level of detail in each sentence. It’s obvious that Coates informed
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa
I really loved Ta-Nehisi Coates' non-fictional books Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, so I had extremely high expectations for his debut novel. Unfortunately, I ended up finding this effort - which does carry an important message - a little uninspired and formulaic, as it tells a slave narrative with magic realist elements partly reminiscent of works like The Underground Railroad and Washington Black. What sets the story apart though is that Coates ...more
This is my first book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a fiction with an interesting premise “What if memory had the power to transport enslaved people to freedom?” The protagonist is Hiram Walker, who can remember everything with photographic recall except his mother.

This is a beautifully written book about slavery. I had a bit of a problem with the magical realism. It took me a awhile to adjust. Otherwise, this is a fantastic book that uses language in an almost magical way. The author has a
Monica **can't read fast enough**
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a skillfully written fictionalized slave narrative told in Coates' unique voice. It slowly unfolds with details and dialogue that exposes the raw pain, horror, and abuse of the Tasked. Coates also puts on full display the perseverance of enslaved people to hold their own sense of worth and desire for freedom despite their daily pervasive injustices and how it molds who the characters are at their core. Coates made his characters relatable in their dreams, ...more
May 24, 2019 marked it as not-released-tbr
Shelves: most-anticipated




Dec 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Coates is an excellent non-fiction writer, and even writes comic books, including the Black Panther series; so it is a surprise that The Water Dancer is not a stronger debut fiction offering. Coates started thinking about this book back in 2008, and extensively researched old stories of enslaved black people [September 2019 interview in The Atlantic]. What stuck with him were the stories of the water taking people home.

The result of this theme is Coates’ Hiram Walker character. Hiram’s mother
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is simultaneously gorgeous to read (for the prose) and very much the horrorshow that slavery describes.

Coates' extensive research into the Civil War era leads wonderfully into this novel about the realities of living in the Big House. The original Big House. The plantation. I really loved the commentary, among so much else, that highlighted just how much of all the craftsmanship, the artistic flair, the industry was thanks, directly, to the labor, and not the owners.

Some of these
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Dutch House
  • Red at the Bone
  • Olive, Again
  • The Nickel Boys
  • Nothing to See Here
  • The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)
  • The Giver of Stars
  • The World That We Knew
  • This Tender Land
  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
  • Such a Fun Age
  • The Secrets We Kept
  • Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
  • The Yellow House
  • How to Be an Antiracist
  • American Dirt
  • The Starless Sea
  • Inland
See similar books…
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur "Genius Grant" fellow, Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations." He lives in New York with his wife and son.
“They knew our names and they knew our parents. But they did not know us, because not knowing was essential to their power. To sell a child right from under his mother, you must know that mother only in the thinnest way possible. To strip a man down, condemn him to be beaten, flayed alive, then anointed with salt water, you cannot feel him the way you feel your own. You cannot see yourself in him, lest your hand be stayed, and your hand must never be stayed, because the moment it is, the Tasked will see that you see them, and thus see yourself. In that moment of profound understanding, you are all done, because you cannot rule as is needed.” 17 likes
“The masters could not bring water to boil, harness to horse or strap their own drawers without us. We were better than them. We had to be. Sloth was literal death for us, while for them it was the whole ambition of their lives.” 17 likes
More quotes…