"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Review and quotes: THE WATER DANCER by Ta'Nehsi Coates

Title:  THE WATER DANCER by Ta'Nehisi Coates

Book Beginnings quote:

Friday 56 quote:

Summary: Hiram Walker is born into slavery but his father is the plantation owner and his half-brother, the heir-apparent. Though he dreams of receiving his inheritance, his due as a child of the owner, Hiram knows it will never happen and is even afraid he will sold off just as his mother was sold when he was young. He remembers little of his mother but he does know that she had special powers. But when he nearly drowns in the River Goose, he discovers that he, too, has a special power.  Could this power help him, and maybe others, escape? Can he do it on his own or should he get help from Georgie Parks, a freed slave living in Freetown nearby? All of Hiram's decisions have tremendous consequences, some are even life-threatening.

The first quote provides foreshadowing of the near-drowning in the Goose, which is a pivotal point in Hiram's life. I laughed when I read it since it is one gigantic sentence and quite confusing until you read on. Don't judge the book by this sentence. The Friday56 quote occurs just before the aforementioned near-drowning when Hiram visits Georgie in Freetown, attempting to get away from the whites who have been drinking and partying all day, and now have menace on their minds. Doesn't seem like things have changed that much if the current news reports are to be believed.

Review: At the center of this story is the tragedy of slavery and desire of every human being to be free and to be treated with dignity and respect. On the edges of the story is the power of story-telling and how important it is to have a story that gives us a place and a people of our own. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a master storyteller and he brings to life this time period in American history with clear-eyed honesty. He also sprinkles in some magical realism allowing the reader to see and interpret the Underground Railroad with new eyes.

The timeliness of this read is obvious. It is a good reminder that white privilege is still alive and it harms the well-being of those not in the dominant culture. I loved the magical realism and how the story drew of folk tales and the wisdom of elders. I highly recommend it.

Book Club discussion questions:
1. Why do you think Coates uses terms like “Tasked” and “Quality” instead of “slaves” and “masters”? What do you think the novel gains from this altered language?
2. Hiram says that the Tasked are “Blessed, for we do not bear the weight of pretending pure.” How does Coates define morality in the novel?
3. What do you make of Howell Walker’s apology? To what extent does Coates humanize Howell? Why do you think he does this?
4. What roles do the concepts of motherhood and fatherhood play in the novel? How does Hiram define family?
5. Sophia tells Hiram, “But what you must get, is that for me to be yours, I must never be yours.” What is Coates saying about the particular struggles of black women in this novel?
6. Characters like Corrine risk their lives to work for the Underground, while also allowing Hiram and some of its other members to come to harm for the greater good of the organization. What might Coates be trying to say about the relationship between white people and racial justice with these characters?
7. Discuss Harriet’s role in the story. What impact does the inclusion of a historical figure have on the narrative?
8. What is the significance of water throughout the book? Why do you think Coates chooses it as the medium for Hiram’s power?
9. What does THE WATER DANCER add to our understanding of how enslaved people suffered? What does the novel add to our understanding of the agency, resilience and strength of enslaved people during that time?
10. How are the themes of THE WATER DANCER relevant to modern discussions of race, privilege and power?
-Source: Reading Group Guides

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.

This book just fulfills the requirements for the Big Book Summer Challenge at 403 pages.


  1. Sounds like an epic read! I added you to the linky. Happy weekend, stay safe!

  2. Coates is an impressive writer, but I'd have trouble with the magical realism.

    1. I thought it was very clever when it dovetailed with the folklore.

  3. I haven't read The Water Dancer, but I have heard of it. It's on my TBR list.

  4. Hi there Anne! This one is also on my TBR. I love the title. So strong. Thanks for sharing all the snippets. It definitely just got bumped a few levels up that dreadful list.

    Here's my weekend reads WeekendBookFriends

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. Hi Anne,

    A very timely and hugely powerful read by the sound of things, as are all the other books by this author.

    I am more intrigued by the basic premise of this particular story more so than any of his others, however I'm a little concerned about how much fantasy is actually woven into the storyline, as that is not one of my favourite reading genres.

    Especially as I have just taken on another fantasy read, which had such and intriguing premise that I simply couldn't resist.

    No! It's not going to hold me back, I have added 'The Water Dancer' to my list, thanks for sharing and for the recommendation :)


  6. I heard Ta'Nehisi Coates speak in Houston last fall and I brought home the book. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it.

  7. I like the story and it seems so appropriate at this time. I'm not too keen on magic, but it depends on how much and how realistic it is. I would consider reading this book.

  8. A great read for our times, and a reminder of what should never happen again!

  9. I've heard good things about this. I'm not a fan of run-on sentences but if they're not common, I could overlook them.

  10. This sounds like a very timely and powerful read. Thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend! :)

  11. I really enjoy this type of narrative! I'll definitely check it out :)
    Konna @ The Reading Armchair

  12. It is a book that cries out to be discussed (which I'm glad we'll get to do on Wednesday). The magical realism seems so symbolic of their need to escape their lives, and the power of their stories and history.


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