The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer

A Novel

Book - 2019
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"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 the corrupt 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."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : One World, [2019]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9780399590597
Branch Call Number: FICTION COATES
Characteristics: 403 pages ; 25 cm


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FCLS Library Staff shares what they've been reading lately! The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehesi Coates By Ellen Baxter, Adult Services Librarian Wonderfully written with some fantasy aspects. The Water Dancer The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel By Carolyn Bean, Librarian I finished Emily St. John Mandel's new book, The Glass Hotel, in less than 24 hours! The Glass Hotel  Acid For The… (more)

From Library Staff

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.

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SmallSnapper Apr 28, 2021

This powerful and magical novel is set in civil war Virginia on a slave plantation called Lockless, where the wealth of the slave owners are dying, their land worked dry. With their power slipping, it gives chance for a young slave, Hiram to think about the idea and challenge of escape. Hiram is no ordinary slave, alongside being incredibly intelligent, he and his ancestors have retained a special gift. The Water Dancer chronicles the fall of the antebellum South, vividly, powerful and grand, I found it an important, intelligently researched and full of distant ancestors resting on Hiram's shoulders.

Mar 25, 2021

Read it!

Mar 18, 2021

Such a great yarn, so beautifully written, with this mystical twist that I love. Huge fan of Coates' writing: he manages to use just enough words to paint the scene but never more. And, yes, I appreciate this clear-eyed look at slavery that's often hard to it should be. I can't really understand the full impact of slavery in the US, but this feels like a step in that direction.

Mar 13, 2021

Beautifully written, this book was one of the best I’ve read in quite some time. Highly recommended

Mar 11, 2021

Really engrossing book. Wished for a little less magical mystery, but it is a book that I’m still carrying around in my memory. Impactful and enlightening.

Jan 09, 2021

THE WATER DANCER is a beautifully written book that speaks from the heart about the ravages the institution of slavery wreaked upon the human spirit and decency itself. I loved UNCLE TOM'S CABIN and years after reading it, it remains my favorite book. THE WATER DANCER shares many similarities with that classic.

The lyrical writing and magical realism that follow Hiram Walker from his life as a slave, to freedom in the north, pulls you into a world where power is skewed and undeserving men determine the lives of everyone around them, ripping families apart at will, without guilt or conscience. Hiram Walker returns to the white father that held him in slavery and the fading tobacco plantation he grew up on as an agent of The Underground Railroad. He has one goal: to free the ones he loves from the oppression of slavery!

In his travels, he comes into contact with important historical figures, including Harriet Tubman. This is a amazing story. Read it!!!

IndyPL_JoniMK Nov 28, 2020

After reading a three-star review of Water Dancer, I had to write my own and give Water Dancer five stars: Though he usually writes non-fiction, Coates ‘attempt’ at historical science fiction is better than many other books by many other authors out there and puts him squarely in the group of other wonderful writers I have been enjoying this year: Colson Whitehead, Richard Wright, Jesmyn Ward, and Alice Walker.
Hiram’s world in Water Dancer reminds me of Janie Crawford’s world in Zoe Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and of Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy. And also of the many motivations behind the African-American diaspora recounted in Isabel Wright’s account of The Great Migration. He does use the frame of the Underground Railroad for the plot—a topic at once tired, sacrosanct, and trending. Like many people, I wondered whether he could make that work. Then, like Colson Whitehead, he pulled it off with the panache and flair of a seasoned SF writer.
I’m fascinated about the role of African-Americans in the Philadelphia malarial plague of 1793 and about how “the story of the White family takes the real-life saga of William and Peter Still and their family as its inspiration.” I plan to read further on the source material Coates has credited. The movement of slave-holders and slaves from tired land on the east coast to places in Kentucky and further south is also a topic of interest.
In the living, breathing character of Hiram, I think that Coates has achieved what few writers have done--created a character whose ambivalence and awareness is always growing: He faces the world of the Task throughout. He carefully examines the damage done to all of the people he has known and loved in his life. He lives, as far as possible, an examined and authentic life. The limits, fears, hopes, dreams, physical debilitation, casual rape, and emotional suffering of slavery, ‘the Task,’ are all here in a swirl of the best descriptive language and imaging available—they have the weight of the supernatural and superhuman. Hiram’s personal struggle to have a vision/solution to his particular set of problems continually sets him apart: He seems way past being able to know and protect the people he loves in a consistent manner—the Task keeps rolling on—the laundry.

Sep 20, 2020

4 1/2 star read. This Oprah book club selection was a very different and engrossing read. Coates tells the story of Hiram Walker, a slave on the fabled Lockless plantation in Virginia. Hiram is a servant to his half brother Maynard and is a motherless boy, as his master sold his mother off. His journey begins with a tragic accident that could have killed him, but didn't. He realizes he has a special power but knows little about it. But others suspect he has the power and involve him in the Underground Railroad in hopes that he can uses his power to liberate others like himself. This book is heartfelt and an absorbing read. I thought it was quite a beautiful read about the time of slavery in the South.

Sep 16, 2020

Not a fan if the mystical elements woven into this story, as it seems to downgrade the work of Harriet Tubman. There are nice poetic turns, but I was surprised that the author didn't tell us what the protagonist looked like until the end of the story. I believe this book is an Oprah's book club selection because of the subject matter, but not because of great writing skills. This is an interesting story, but not a classic

LPL_ShirleyB Sep 14, 2020

Read an immersive tale to celebrate the Underground Railroad.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first work of fiction is as beautiful and wise as his essays!

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Feb 13, 2020

'Way I see it, ain't no pure and it is we who are blessed, for we know this.'

'Blessed, huh?'

'Blessed, for we do not bear the weight of pretending pure[...]I would live down here among my losses, among the muck and mess of it, before I would ever live among those who are in their own kind of muck but are so blinded by it they fancy it pure. Ain't no pure[...]Ain't no clean.'" (293)

Feb 13, 2020

“Bored whites were barbarian whites. While they played at aristocrats, we were their well-appointed and stoic attendants. But when they tired of dignity, the bottom fell out. New games were anointed and we were but pieces on the board. It was terrifying. There was no limit to what they might do at this end of the tether, nor what my father [the white Master of the plantation] would allow them to do.”

Feb 13, 2020

“The masters could not bring water to boil, harness a 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.”


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