The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Reviewer: Ifeanyi Emeka Vitalis

Ta-Nehisi Coates rare gift springs from how he alters the most ordinary, mere actions of no consequence into deeper meanings of interest and value. He believes that language is the life of human actions, that a mere sentence is an aberration. And so he yearns for the ineffaceable, the truth that makes words and experiences the life of valid existence.

“The Water Dancer” is a slave narrative told by Hiram Walker, the son of Rose, a black woman and Howell Walker, his father, a slave owner. Hiram has the magical power of conduction which will aid him in freeing his people (The Tasked) from their slave masters ( The Quality) “Conduction was the summoning of a story, of water and the object that made memory real as brick” This magical power felt depressing to Hi.

Memory is the only power capable of summoning a conduction. It is in remembering his mother, the water dancer,his particular histories, all of his loves and losses can Hiram conduct his people from the South of Slavery to the North of Freedom.


When Thena whom slavery separated her three children from her, with only the eldest Kessiah seen in the north by Hiram, she couldn’t shoulder a reunion with her little daughter who had now grown into adulthood in her absence. Hiram was willing to help with a promised reunion through conduction but Thena said to him, ” What will I say to her, Hi? What will I be? What will I do when I look at her and all I can see are my lost ones? ” It made cry about the large by n unspoken emotional effect of slavery.

Otha’s unwavering love for his wife, Lydia , a combination of dream and hope_ a promise: “This is not our end, Lydia says. This is not how you and me die”.
For Otha, “She had taken the whip. But I was the one who was claiming to be wounded. I was supposed to love her. But all I was truly loving was my own regard.” Harriet Tubman was also a conductor of the Underground railroad. Memory she had said to Hiram, “is the chariot, memory is the way, and memory is the bridge from the curse of slavery to the boon of freedom”. The only redemption afforded humanity is the gift of memory.
What happens when humanity looses its ability to remember?

“The Water Dancer” is a well told story with memorable characters; Mr. Field ( whose real name is Micajah Bland) , Corrine, Mars, Sophia, Maynard, Raymond White and the gracious Thena.

Harriet’s love for Sophia is a testament that love survives the evils of slavery.

Nothing was left out of this debut novel of immense power and there is no pretension as to making it seem so.

Ta Nehisi is a writer’s writer and a keeper of memories through stories.

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