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The Water Dancer Kindle Edition
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I had always avoided that bridge, for it was stained with the remembrance of the mothers, uncles, and cousins gone Natchez-way. But knowing now the awesome power of memory, how it can open a blue door from one world to another, how it can move us from mountains to meadows, from green woods to fields caked in snow, knowing now that memory can fold the land like cloth, and knowing, too, how I had pushed my memory of her into the “down there” of my mind, how I forgot, but did not forget, I know now that this story, this Conduction, had to begin there on that fantastic bridge between the land of the living and the land of the lost.
And she was patting juba on the bridge, an earthen jar on her head, a great mist rising from the river below nipping at her bare heels, which pounded the cobblestones, causing her necklace of shells to shake. The earthen jar did not move; it seemed almost a part of her, so that no matter her high knees, no matter her dips and bends, her splaying arms, the jar stayed fixed on her head like a crown. And seeing this incredible feat, I knew that the woman patting juba, wreathed in ghostly blue, was my mother.
No one else saw her—not Maynard, who was then in the back of the new Millennium chaise, not the fancy girl who held him rapt with her wiles, and, most strange, not the horse, though I had been told that horses had a nose for things that stray out from other worlds and stumble into ours. No, only I saw her from the driver’s seat of the chaise, and she was just as they’d described her, just as they’d said she’d been in the olden days when she would leap into a circle of all my people—Aunt Emma, Young P, Honas, and Uncle John—and they would clap, pound their chests, and slap their knees, urging her on in double time, and she would stomp the dirt floor hard, as if crushing a crawling thing under her heel, and bend at the hips and bow, then twist and wind her bent knees in union with her hands, the earthen jar still on her head. My mother was the best dancer at Lockless, that is what they told me, and I remembered this because she’d gifted me with none of it, but more I remembered because it was dancing that brought her to the attention of my father, and thus had brought me to be. And more than that, I remembered because I remembered everything—everything, it seemed, except her.
It was autumn, now, the season when the races came south. That afternoon Maynard had scored on a long-shot thoroughbred, and thought this might, at last, win the esteem of Virginia Quality he sought. But when he made the circuit around the great town square, leaning back, way back in the chaise and grinning large, the men of society turned their back to him and puffed on their cigars. There were no salutes. He was what he would always be—Maynard the Goof, Maynard the Lame, Maynard the Fool, the rotten apple who’d fallen many miles from the tree. He fumed and had me drive to the old house at the edge of our town, Starfall, where he purchased himself a night with a fancy, and had the bright notion to bring her back to the big house at Lockless, and, most fatefully, in a sudden bout of shame, insisted on leaving the back way out of town, down Dumb Silk Road, until it connected to that old turnpike, which led us back to the bank of the river Goose.
A cold steady rain fell as I drove, the water dripping down from the brim of my hat, puddling on my trousers. I could hear Maynard in the back, with all his games, putting his carnal boasts upon the fancy. I was pushing the horse as hard as I could, because all I wanted was to be home and free of Maynard’s voice, though I could never, in this life, be free of him. Maynard who held my chain. Maynard, my brother who was made my master. And I was trying all I could to not hear, searching for distraction—memories of corn-shucking or young games of blind man’s bluff. What I remember is how those distractions never came, but instead there was a sudden silence, erasing not just Maynard’s voice, but all the small sounds of the world around. And now, peering into the pigeonhole of my mind, what I found were remembrances of the lost—men holding strong on watch-night, and women taking their last tour of the apple orchards, spinsters remanding their own gardens to others, old codgers cursing the great house of Lockless. Legions of the lost, brought across that baleful bridge, legions embodied in my dancing mother.
I yanked at the reins but it was too late. We barreled right through and what happened next shook forever my sense of a cosmic order. But I was there and saw it happen, and have since seen a great many things that expose the ends of our knowledge and how much more lies beyond it.
The road beneath the wheels disappeared, and the whole of the bridge fell away, and for a moment I felt myself floating on, or maybe in, the blue light. And it was warm there, and I remember that brief warmth because just as suddenly as I floated out, I was in the water, under the water, and even as I tell you this now, I feel myself back there again, in the icy bite of that river Goose, the water rushing into me, and that particular burning agony that comes only to the drowning.
There is no sensation like drowning, because the feeling is not merely the agony, but a bewilderment at so alien a circumstance. The mind believes that there should be air, since there is always air to be had, and the urge to breathe is such a matter of instinct that it requires a kind of focus to belay the order. Had I leapt from the bridge myself, I could have accounted for my new situation. Had I even fallen over the side, I would have understood, if only because this would have been imaginable. But it was as though I had been shoved out of a window right into the depths of the river. There was no warning. I kept trying to breathe. I remember crying out for breath and more I remember the agony of the answer, the agony of water rushing into me, and how I answered that agony by heaving, which only invited more water.
But somehow I steadied my thoughts, somehow I came to understand that all my thrashing could only but hasten my demise. And with that accomplished, I noted that there was light in one direction and darkness in another and deduced that the dark was the depths and the light was not. I whipped my legs behind me, and stretched out my arms toward the light, pulling the water until, at last, coughing, retching, I surfaced.
And when I came up, breaking through dark water, and into the diorama of the world—storm clouds hung by unseen thread, a red sun pinned low against them, and beneath that sun, hills dusted with grass—I looked back at the stone bridge, which must have been, my God, a half mile away.
The bridge seemed to be almost racing away from me, because the current pulled me along and when I angled myself to swim toward the shore it was that current still, or perhaps some unseen eddy beneath, pulling me downriver. There was no sign of the woman whose time Maynard had so thoughtlessly purchased. But whatever thoughts I had on her behalf were broken by Maynard making himself known, as he had so often, with hue and cry, determined to go out of this world in the selfsame manner that he’d passed through it. He was close by, pulled by the same current. He thrashed in the waves, yelled, treaded a bit, and then disappeared under, only to reappear again seconds later, yelling, half treading, thrashing.
“Help me, Hi!”
There I was, my own life dangling over the black pit, and now being called to save another. I had, on many occasions, tried to teach Maynard to swim, and he took to this instruction as he took to all instruction, careless and remiss at the labor, then sore and bigoted when this negligence bore no fruit. I can now say that slavery murdered him, that slavery made a child of him, and now, dropped into a world where slavery held no sway, Maynard was dead the minute he touched water. I had always been his protection. It was I, only by good humor, and debasement, that had kept Charles Lee from shooting him; and it was I, with special appeal to our father, who’d kept him countless times from wrath; and it was I who clothed him every morning; and I who put him to bed every night; and it was I who now was tired, in both body and soul; and it was I, out there, wrestling against the pull of the current, against the fantastic events that had deposited me there, and now wrestling with the demand that I, once again, save another, when I could not even conjure the energy to save myself.
“Help me!” he yelled again, and then he cried out, “Please!” He said it like the child he always was, begging. And I noted, however uncharitably, even there in the Goose facing my own death, that I had never before recalled him speaking in a manner that reflected the true nature of our positions. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
One of the best books I have ever read in my entire life . . . I was enthralled, I was devastated. -- Oprah Winfrey
a remarkable story about inequality, slavery, memory, freedom and dignity. I found it important and universally relevant -- Elif Shafak ― Guardian
a crowd-pleasing exercise in breakneck and often occult storytelling that tonally resembles the work of Stephen King as much as it does the work of Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead and the touchstone African-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler. ― New York Times
a work of both staggering imagination and rich historical significance . . . timeless and instantly canon-worthy. ― Rolling Stone
A tale of slavery and mysterious power in this debut novel from one of America's most exciting young writers. ― The Times
An arresting story of fantastical power in the brutal world of human bondage . . . A transcendent, arresting work from a crucial political and literary artist -- Diana Evans
Eagerly anticipated . . . The Water Dancer merges historical and fantasy fiction in a slavery story that Oprah Winfrey says is one of the best books she has read in her life. ― Observer
In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation's most important writers, tackling one of America's oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed ― Publisher's Weekly
Beautiful prose and wonderful characters . . . an important book written by one of the great thinkers of our times. It's a thriller, a historical how-to, a love story and a warning. I read it one long night and the next day pressed it into everyone's hands. Brilliant. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B07Y1R4TDB
- Publisher : Penguin (24 September 2019)
- Language : English
- File size : 1475 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 402 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0593133110
- Best Sellers Rank: #77,759 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from India
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The story of Hiram is so fascinating and it gives you a glimpse of what slavery is, what happens when you try to escape slavery, how life is after the freedom they long for and what kind of sacrifices people had to make just to stay alive.
Coates imparts his protagonist with tremendous responsibility in the form of “Conduction”—the ability to transport yourself and others across time and place by the sheer force of memories of one’s own and communal past. It is this potential that renders Hiram a vital collaborator in the network of Underground Railroad. But here’s the hitch—Hiram is unable to yield this facility yet. Rest of the narrative follows Hiram’s journey as he meets his mentor of sorts, Mosses or Harriet (as she prefers to be called) who shows him the force of his gift and how he can wield it to his benefit, and realises that he can secure his freedom as well as of those he cares about. Things are obviously not as easy since any kind of escape from the masters involves mortal danger.
I felt that The Water Dancer would have been more potent if it were shorter. Of course, Coates does furnish his debut with moments of brilliance and intensity, though these occur only occasionally. He writes about the pain and humiliation of slaves, whom he calls the Tasked, without going into the gory details. He chooses to explore the emotional dimension of it instead, although there’s something that I can’t quite put into words, which seemed missing. Perhaps it was depth that I found lacking, which made it seem that I was floating on the surface even as tension roared just beneath it.
Top reviews from other countries
Having recently re-viewed Gone With The Wind, which President Trump clearly adores, I’m convinced that we need more movies — and more books — that present slavery as it actually was, and not as apologists for the Confederacy want us to see it.
Ta-Nehisi Coates new novel is nothing at all like Django, in the sense that it does not harp on the violence and brutality of plantation life in Virginia. The lead character, Hiram Walker, is the son of the plantation’s white owner and one of his slaves. Throughout the book, which Walker narrates, he refers to the slave-owner (and his owner) as ‘my father’. Much of the story revolves around the destruction of Black families, who were sold off individually as property by slave owners.
While there is little of the blood-letting which Tarantino showed, slavery is presented here as a slow-burning horror. In the end, one feels in addition to rage, a very deep sense of sadness at the pointless cruelty of everyday live in the pre-Civil War American South.
Hiram has a memory with perfect recall, but alas he cannot remember his mother, indeed there is a hole in his memory, and he cannot even remember what she looked like. As the son of a female slave, his father is the Plantation owner, and he thus has a white half-brother, who dies early on in this story. As we read of Hiram growing up so we have a certain sense of realism, but this is always being broached by the fantastical element, which instead of adding to the tale seems to stifle it a bit, giving a bit of an off-kilter view of things. So what we end up with is something that at times does not reach its full potential.
The characters and situations, with regards to the Underground Railroad and the different experiences of slaves from different areas reads as authentic, also this takes in the raping of the land, as the tobacco plantation that Hiram comes from is starting to decrease production due to the soil becoming too eroded. The latter is something that still rankles, as it changed parts of the US completely, and of course around the world this intense farming of one crop has caused serious soil damage. As the plantation is being run into the ground so we see slaves being sold off, and older ones being brought in when needed as replacements.
We read of the brutalities that went on on some plantations and the various relations between slaves and their owners. Coates also brings up here other issues, which are lightly touched upon at a camp, where there are people touting female suffrage, free love, communism and so on, although these are never furthered and thus are left as loose ends. With the Conduction elements so we have something that does jar and seems to not flow with the rest of the story. Such a power supposedly comes from Africa, with its different religions and myths, but somehow has become mixed with Christianity, which we know happens when religions collide, however we get in one place at least, quite a biblical scene that does not fit rightly, whilst what is going on is certainly not biblical; indeed Hiram’s power, which others also have is quite reminiscent of the Harry Potter books, where Harry and others travel via fireplaces. Here is it done by waterways, and you need a guide to take you.
This is this author’s first novel, and as such is very good, but personally I felt that if the fantastical elements were left out, thus keeping this more realistic throughout then this could well have been a modern classic, as although such things can and do work in other books, here it just destroys the fluidity and balance of the story, and decreases some of its power.