Book: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Genre: Magical realism / historical fiction
Publisher: Random House Audio
Read by: Joe Morton
Publication date: 2019
Time: 14 hours, 15 minutes
Source: borrowed e-audiobook from the library
Summary: When Hiram Walker was born, Virginia’s genteel white society was on its last legs, having exploited enslaved people and tobacco-growing soil past the point of sustainability. The shaky lifestyle gained a few more years by selling enslaved workers south to the cotton-farming regions.
Hiram Walker is the enslaved son of the plantation owner and a woman Hiram remembers dancing with a jug of water on her head, without spilling a drop. Hiram was born with the gift of an unerring memory. He remembers everything except for one day in his life, the day his mother was sold “Natchez-way.” His relationships with both the white and black residents of Lockless, a plantation in fictional Elm County, are complicated for a variety of reasons: the circumstances of his birth, the fact that he’s effectively orphaned at a young age, and his particular talents and fantasies.
Thoughts: The Water Dancer is my very first audio novel. My very first audio book was just a few months ago — Becoming written and read by Michelle Obama. I figured that I would stick to memoirs by women read by the author. But, a friend highly recommended the audio version of this book, so I gave it a shot. And I’m so glad that I did (thanks, Ann!).
The experience is less like being read to and more like a radio drama. Or, a visual one. With Coates’ beautiful descriptions and Morton’s amazing renditions of the voices of the various characters, I saw this story come to life in my mind.
Appeal: There are a lot of anti-racist reading lists out there now, mostly filled with nonfiction. If you prefer to learn from novels, The Water Dancer will bring you to a new understanding of what it was like to be enslaved in the United States — and what it was like to resist the institution of slavery (with a little magic to improve the odds).
Further reading: I learned about how cotton, farmed by unpaid labor, was the economic engine for the development of the US economy in the nonfiction book The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist. If you’re looking for books to read that aid in understanding American past and present as it is (rather than the fairy tale we were taught), there are many suggestions on my blog. The category Book Clubs will capture most of them.
What books have you read that are helping you understand this moment in time?