The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


This novel is written “around” slavery and the underground railroad, rooted in the state of Virginia. The main character, Hiram, whose father is the owner of the plantation on which he “tasks” and whose mother is a slave who was put on the auction block by his father when he was still a child. Virginia society is distinctly divided into 1) the Quality, 2) the Low Whites, and 3) the Tasked or Tasking.

In a way, this is a coming-of-age novel–one in which a young person navigates an extraordinary set of circumstances, armed with an extraordinary capability. He struggles to understand and control his power of “conduction” throughout the book. Family, love, loyalty, respect for humanity, dedication to a cause…this story has it all. It’s well worth your reading time.

I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Joe Morton. I don’t often focus on the readers, but this one was especially good. His bio says that he “has an extensive list of film and television credits”.

10 comments on “The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates”

  1. So glad to read this, Teri. This book is definitely on my reading list but really love hearing your input.

    As to Joe Morton, well. Many, many years ago I watched a wonderful film – hilarious, touching, thought provoking – called The Brother From Another Planet. Starring Joe Morton as a mute alien, don’t remember much about it, only that I loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How’s that for improbable, JNaz? My praise-worthy reader is your mute alien. I’ll check out The Brother From Another Planet!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I thought about Daniela’s comment about The Witch of Painted Sorrows’s abrupt ending after finishing this book. It’s not the same here, not a full stop with dropped stitches but rather a rapid wrap-up. I see this so many times. It’s like the book is not to exceed “x” number of pages, so the end of the story that has theretofore been fully-developed is then just sketched. (Meant to say this in my first post.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates interviewed when his novel first came out. The interview prompted me to read it. I found it very different from many novels about slavery. In the interview, Coates said that he did not want to portray slaves as victims, but rather resilient multi-dimensional people caught up in a very horrific time period (my recollection, not his actual words). I thought he succeeded. The eclectic spiritual dimension woven through the entire story appealed to the theologian in me. Thanks, Teri, for your post. I am in rehab heading home to State College from Reading PA where I had hip replacement surgery Feb. 25. It’s been very strange being in a town where no one knows me. I came for the surgeon and the hospital and rehab are in the country’s top 100. It was worth the inconvenience, but I’ll be glad to head for home tomorrow. I’ve been doing more reading than writing, but the blog has been great company. Thanks to all the writers!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Barbara, thank you for bringing your recollection of the interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates to the table: “resilient multi-dimensional people caught up in a very horrific time period” rings true for me, too.

      So glad you’re on your way home. Sweet words after surgery and rehab.


    2. Yes, really love hearing your input on this also, Barbara. And so glad you are on the mend and nearly heading home. Take care.


  4. Just finished listening to this book, read by Joe Morton. I found the book so moving in its portrayal of humanity and power. And yes, I loved that interwoven spiritual magic. Morton is indeed an incredible reader. And singer! Really, really enjoyed this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for circling back here to let us know you have read the book, too. So glad it spoke to you–literally as well as figuratively. And you should know that I have the DVD of the film you mentioned, Brother From Another Planet, in the house cued up for viewing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the film. I am sure I saw it when it first came out so it has been awhile…


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