Ta-Nehisi Coates first novel is compelling, dark, and full of hope.
Hiram Walker is born into slavery during the time of the Antebellum South, or the plantation era, of slavery. In Hiram’s world, their are two kinds of people: the Tasked who work as slaves and the Quality, the landowners.
Hiram, as a young boy, has no recollection of his mother. He remembers, vaugly, her leaving him, but nothing else. He has an exellent memory, one that helps him recall the songs and stories that his people sing and tell as they work in the plantation fields. It is this singing ability, this perfect memorization, that helps get him out of the hard labor of the Tasked.
As a member of the Tasked who work in the house, Hiram serves his father, as well as entertains the rich white folks at dinner parties. His photographic memory allows him to excel in ways that his white brother does not: He becomes Maynard’s tutor after receiving a certain level of education. He also becomes his half-brother’s watcher–someone who makes sure Maynard doesn’t do anything stupid.
Hiram also possesses a unique ability, one that allows himself to be transported by waterways. He uses this ability to save himself from drowning–without knowing how he ended up in a field, without knowing what he did in the first place.
It is this ability–conduction–that allows him to become a part of the Underground Railroad.
Without giving more of the plot away, I will say this: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel is electrifying, and full of hope. I loved the science fiction elements of The Water Dancer, and cannot wait to see what Coates will write next.
If you like to read historical science fiction, The Water Dancer is perfect for you.