The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Falls Short

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Hey Book Friends! I finished “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I have… thoughts.

First off, I’ve heard nothing but great things for Coates’ writing and other books. However, “The Water Dancer” is his first novel; and while I appreciated the attempt, reading this felt like a roller coaster that continues to ascend upward only to leave the rider/reader suspended with no forward movement. Second, I felt that the writing was too abstract. This, for me, took away from the story and made reading the book less enjoyable.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


“The Water Dancer” is about a biracial runaway slave in antebellum Virginia who learns he has a gift of memory and conduction. In the book, conduction is the power a person has to physically travel to another place using emotional thoughts and memories. Hiram Walker, the main character, is one of the few people who harbors this ability. Throughout the story, Hiram—nicknamed Hi—is learning to harness this gift into something he can control at will.

Coates is a great writer. Period. He has a way with words that is really intellectual, but it did not translate well in the pages of “The Water Dancer.” At times the story seemed rushed, like he just wanted to get it out of the way. About halfway through the story readers learn about a mystical member of the Underground Railroad—Harriet Tubman. She, like Hiram, has the power of conduction.

While I appreciated the inclusion of #BlackGirlMagic I didn’t feel it was necessary. Tubman is a hero who changed history without any extras. It would have been fine to include her in the story without the enchanted add-on.

Overall, I’m disappointed in this read. I had the opportunity to discuss this book with a few coworkers and we’re all in agreement that it wasn’t enjoyable. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an essayist. He’s a scholarly writer whose works on social justice—and injustice—is spot on. I’ve heard nothing but great things about his other works, so “The Water Dancer” is very second-rate to me. Maybe I’ll give “Between the World and Me” a try later this year.  This book, however, seems to fall short of the celebrity of the writer.

Have you read “The Water Dancer”? What were your thoughts? Let’s discuss!



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