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A slavery novel. I cannot claim to understand. Very nicely written. But, somehow, pedestrian. Slavery is bad. African memories exist, and become other things in the stories of America. But I wonder, about the the story featuring a white-lady saviour, without whom, etc., etc. I don't know. Perhaps I'm being unfair. But it doesn"t follow that someone writing about slavery gets a free pass.
I’ve read a few books about slave history and have always enjoyed their grittiness and often confronting images. The last one I read was ‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead which I enjoyed but didn’t love.
Our main character is Hiram Walker. Hiram lives on a plantation and 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’. Hiram has a memory with perfect recall, but he cannot remember his mother, there is a hole in his memory, and he cannot even remember what she looked like.
The story starts off well and I found myself being absorbed into the flow and life of the characters but it started to turn strange when we learn that Hiram has a special power, the power to ‘conduct’ people to other places. For someone that gets involved in helping slaves escape, this is a handy trick. I felt that the addition of the fantastical element seemed to stifle the story a bit, giving a bit of an off-kilter view of things.
The book felt too long for me, I think they could have cut out 100 pages or so and had a more solid story. Although I enjoyed Hiram’s photographic memory, I felt that the parts embellished with the magical realism didn’t fit the harsh realistic and shameful history we were living through.
Overall, not the best book on this topic that I have read but I am glad that I read it.
This book was a little slow, overly verbose and meandering. The magical realism impacting history theme was similar and already done better in a book that came out earlier in the year, "Memoirs of the Senator's Wife." However, "Memoirs" storyline was intricate and interesting.
"Waters" prose were overly wordy and pretentious at times, leading the reader out of the belief that anyone would ever think in the manner that the character thought. I was a little offended that the hero with "superman powers" was taking some of the credit away from Harriet Tubman who was really the heroine in history. I seriously hope that schools do not use this book in their curriculum, as Black women have few female super heroes as Harriet Tubman was so her accomplishments in anyway being attributed to the hero is not appropriate. I got the impression that many of the positive reviews are probably paid or friends. Although "Waters" did have a few moments they were so few and far between it was hard to make it to the end of the book and was not worth the time it took to read.
I hesitate to pan a book that I looked forward to with anticipation based on the non-fiction I’ve admired by Coats. I hate to say it, but he appears not to be a great novelist, not even a very good one. The Water Dancer relies on the technique of magic realism as done with audacity by Marquez, Allende and Morrison. Coats overdoes it creating a book that is more a parable than fiction. The pace is slow, the writing which is deliberately inflated becomes tiresome and the plot is implausible. Coats, attempts to create a lyrical diction that often falls flat. There’s a sense that the writing is sometimes forced and one has to commend Coats for attempting an original way of addressing the realities of slavery. In some sections, his mastery of language is admirable as is his vision. I hold out hope that Coats will improve his novelistic skills in succeeding novels to match his accomplishments in non-fiction where his strength is undeniable.
Yikes, from such a great writer of non-fiction this book is a disappointment.
The book in terms of style reads like a cross between Invisible Man and Kindred.
Conversations are awkward, every character readily spills their guts out to the main character for reasons that are difficult to explain.
Harriet Tubman shows up as a magical Moses sorceress, but not in a good way.
The magical element could actually be cool if it wasn't so poorly described and randomly attended to. It's presence actually detracts from the story because it doesn't help with what's going on. By the end of the story it's an afterthought.
Skip this book and read the author's non-fiction instead.
I really wanted to like this book but I found it very slow moving most of the time and I ended up skimming over pages. The Underground Railroad aspect is what enticed me to read it but I found the transcendental elements to be unrealistic and distracting.
Despite the beautiful writing and a great beginning, I just couldn't connect to the story. Even though I was listening to the fabulous audiobook! Joe Morton is one hell of a narrator! And still, the story wasn't that interesting to me. And it's because of the development, in my opinion. Hiram's story starts on a high note, with a beautiful and magical scene. It has this magical realism implicit in the words and the set up, and then, it gets lost. The book loses its strength in the following pages: underdeveloped characters, long and repetitive situations, twists and turns that are not appealing enough...
Maybe I was hoping too much. The hype around the author and this book was very high. It is a heart-wrenching story, no doubt about that, and the underground railroad is a part of history, and a very important one... But the drama was not enough for me to actually feel the story, love the characters and connect with them. It becomes a series of dialogues and extensive explanations that turn into reflections about why he did what he did... But we already went through it before, so it becomes repetitive very fast.
I was very disappointed in this book that came so highly recommended by people who are much more qualified to review a book than I am.
It was way too long for the story that was told. I think that the author fell in love with his poetic style of writing and just went with sort of a stream of consciousness approach. I took me much longer to read than a good book normally does because it was such a laborious task.