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The Water Dancer

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  81,271 ratings  ·  9,356 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 j
Hardcover, 403 pages
Published September 24th 2019 by One World
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Marilyn I think a high school student would enjoy this book immensely. I was fascinated to read a book that showed another window into slavery different from …moreI think a high school student would enjoy this book immensely. I was fascinated to read a book that showed another window into slavery different from the more traditional books I have read. It certainly didn't diminish the darkness of that period of time. I liked that it used different terms for slavery as well as introducing the magical realism. I don't think that diminishes that more traditional slavery accounts but features a slave who was highly intelligent, who had a different experience than most, and who loved a strong woman who taught him a thing or two about love. I also loved the part of the plot where another canny woman wove her way into a slaveowners home to infiltrate the railroad. This is a book about the plot to end the evils of slavery. (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 comp…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)

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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  81,271 ratings  ·  9,356 reviews

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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 lo
Emily May
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019, historical
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 shoul
chai ♡

"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 i
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, t ...more
Elyse  Walters
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.
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! ...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 talen
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) h
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 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 holding a 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 kn
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. ...more
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 take
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
The darkness of slavery and all of its shackles to the brightness of conduction and all of its light.
An unusual story. Exquisite writing. An Unforgettable storyline of slavery and the power of memories and families.
Through the dark times, as we are currently experiencing, may we be granted the gift of conduction and hope.
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
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 writ
Feb 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this on the whole though it didn't quite live up to the hype for me. It's very well written but was a little too top heavy on the schmaltz for me. Essentially it's one of those narratives extolling the power of love that commercial cinema is so fond of. I also felt it sprung a puncture half way through after a very promising start. Much of the urgency of the early part suddenly evaporated and the action began to take the form of second-hand stories happening elsewhere while our narrato ...more
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, netgalley
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

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 t
Brenda ~Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
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.
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
Apr 13, 2020 rated it liked it
The Water Dancer is the story of Hiram, a slave in Virginia with a special power that saves his life one night when he almost drowns in a river. After this experience, he commits to escaping from the only life he’s ever known, one of slavery. Hiram has a near perfect memory and finds his calling as an agent in the Underground, helping slaves transition to freedom in the North.

There is an element of magical realism and while this wasn’t a detraction for me, toward the middle of the story, I foun
Michael Finocchiaro
This was an interesting story about slavery, but with a magical twist. As Colson Whitehead has created a literal (but fictional) train in his Pulitzer-winning The Underground Railroad, here Coates creates a sort of mystical, magical path to freedom called The Conduction. I just found it much less interesting as a story compared to The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

The book is written in the first person from the perspective of the primary character, Hiram, or "Hi". He
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
I had not thought this would be a difficult review to write, but I have sat here for an unconcionable amount of time pondering over where to start. I suppose the starting point is slavery, the insitution that we all recognize as ungodly in every sense of the word. Coates does a remarkable job of tackling the horrors of that condition without seeming to overstep reality. It was easy to see how a person might long and concentrate on escape and at the same time fear not only the consequences of an ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I struggled with the first part of this book. Overall, great writing!
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 is
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 fre
Diane Barnes
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've been reading this book for 10 days, but it feels more like 10 years. It seemed the more I read, the further I had to go. It seemed endless. Not because it wasn't good; it was hauntingly beautiful. Not because of the mysticism of some of the plot; that was explained by the context. And not because it moved slowly; at times the action was at breakneck speed. Even with all of this, I had to force myself back to it day after day, not eager to read, but totally invested when I did.

This book affe

“Perhaps my mother would be there, and then, at the speed of thought, I saw her flittering, before my eyes, water dancing in the ring.”

I was so frustrated while reading this book that I quit several times but kept thinking there were some valuable insights and strong images and I wanted to see where they led.

Hiram Walker is a boy, a slave who doesn’t remember his mother. He tells his story about growing up and learning more about who he is and what he can expect in life.

“And more, I was jus
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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. ...more

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“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.” 42 likes
“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.” 34 likes
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