Book Review: “The Water Dancer” by TaNehisi Coates

photo used under SPLC guidelines

photo used under SPLC guidelines

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American journalist and writer who became widely read through his reporting in the Atlantic. He is well known for his memoir Between the World and Me, his article The Case for Reparations published in the Atlantic, and his nonfiction writings on race relations in America. Coates is so popular for his non fiction writings, so most of his readers are unaware of his few novels, one of which is called The Water Dancer. 

The Water Dancer is a novel with elements of magical realism that tells the story of a runaway slave, Hiram, becoming an agent of the Underground. It describes the Underground as a complex network of agents, but incorporates the magical realism as a way to convey the pure inexplicable nature of the amount of work the Underground was able to do. Moses, the code name for Harriet Tubman, plays an essential role in helping Hiram discover the spiritual powers he possesses and help him process the inhumane conditions of his life. 

While dealing with overarching matters of oppression and enslavement, The Water Dancer also explores the familial trials that Hiram experiences as an agent of the Underground. He wrestles through wanting to serve a greater purpose, but discovers that his service often comes at the cost of the relationships he cares most about. This inner look into Hiram’s specific struggles adds more humanity to the novel, making it both an emotionally moving and difficult novel to read, but one that is incredibly important. 

This novel is a great read for anyone, and provides important topics for discussion that are told in a more accessible way, through the narrative of a young man. The writing is beautiful and elegant, and is definitely worth anyone’s time.