A couple months ago, I was invited by a dear friend to participate in a one-day book club. The book assigned to us was Ta-Nehisi Coates' new novel, The Water Dancer. Because I had read his earlier work, Between the World and Me, I was anxious to dive into his most recent title.
As usual, I do my "grown-up" (read - not kid/YA books) reading before bed. It didn't take me long to get through this book. So here's my take - enjoy!
TITLE: The Water Dancer
AUTHOR: Ta-Nehisi Coates
PAGES: 403 (hardback)
GENRE: Historical fantasy (is that even a thing? He might have just invented it).
AUDIENCE: So this is interesting...I don't know if Coates had an audience in mind, but this would make an interesting read for adults or high school. The language is on the uber-descriptive side at times, and there were several instances where I needed to re-read in order to fully understand what was going on. But as far as the appropriateness of the content, it's awesome. For sure, there are difficult moments that deal with the inhumane treatment of human beings, but nothing that would be over-the-top or horrifically disturbing.
SUMMARY: Hiram Walker, plantation slave, struggles with his own identity while subsequently plotting an escape to freedom. Because of a unique ability, he connects with the "Underground" and becomes a master of "conduction."
THIS BOOK MADE ME GEEK OUT BECAUSE...Ok, I'm going to be super honest here. At first, I totally geeked out because, well, it's Ta-Nehisi Coates. His voice has become one of the foremost on racism. It's honest, raw, and catalytic. I felt eager to see what he would do with fiction, and anticipated a really charged text.
I'm not going to say that I was let down by the book, because I wasn't. It just wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and speaking from a purely plot-driven perspective, wasn't a genre I would choose myself.
Don't hate me. Let me explain.
The novel mixed historical fiction with a little bit of fantasy. I don't want to spoil it, so I'm not going to say too much about that, but as a personal preference, I don't like my genres mixing - particularly these too. When I read historical fiction, I want to learn something. I love things that are well-researched and factual. I just don't like the blend. What can I say? As a kid I kept my peas separated from my potatoes, and my meat NEVER touched anything.
That said, this book had complex characters with multiple layers of interest. The "familial" web between several of the characters added intrigue and obstacle which kept the storyline moving. Coates' writing style very much embodies an Oprah Book Club book (which, by the way, this book is). It borders on poetic, sometimes can be a little too much, but always winds its way back to the point.
This book would make a great companion to an informational text or as a supplement to a historical study of the pre Civil War South. It opens up so many questions and opportunities for discussion. I can't wait to join the ladies of this book club and discuss it on Saturday!