Book Review: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Rating: 2.5/5

What It’s About:

Hiram Walker was born into slavery and lost all memories of his mother after the day she was sold. Hiram is also the illegitimate son of the plantation owner and is tasked with keeping his white half-brother out of trouble. After almost drowning in a carriage accident, Hiram discovers that he has a power that is much more than meet the eye. Realizing that he will never be his own person as a slave, Hiram decides to risk it all and escape from his bondage. His escape launches a series of events that take him across the country as he continues to unlock the memories of his mother and learn to control his mysterious power.

What I liked:

There were several moments in this book that gave me a new perspective on what slaves went through. The concepts that stood out to me were the impact of family separation, the power of memories, and telling your own story. Hiram struggles to remember what happened before his mother was taken from him. It isn’t until he unlocks those memories of his mother and family that he is able to access and harness his power to “conduct” and help others escape to freedom.

“For memory is the chariot, and memory is the way, and memory is bridge from the curse of slavery to the boon of freedom.”

Ta Nehisi Coates

What I didn’t like:

While the prose in this book is often beautiful and evocative, I struggled to get through the slow plot. There are a few parts where the story gets really good but most of it dragged on for me. A majority of the characters felt one-dimensional and I never had a connection to Hiram as the main character. As Coates’s first novel, many reviewers on Goodreads say they prefer his non-fiction writing. This is my first time reading his work, so I can’t attest to this comparison. I also have Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, on my Kindle and am curious to see how they compare.

Final Thoughts:

Sadly, it took me a long time to finish reading this book. I lacked the motivation to get through the plot and characters. I kept feeling like something exciting was going to happen in the story but it never did. However, I am grateful that this book made me think about slavery in. a different way. I usually don’t read historical fiction from this time period or region, so it could also be that The Water Dancer just isn’t in my wheelhouse. You might want to try this book if you are interested in: 

  • examining the history and sociology of slavery
  • the Underground Railroad
  • families and/or family separation
  • preserving and sharing memories


Leave a Reply