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Check It Out: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehesi Coates

This is Barb Gross with the Sioux City Public Library, and you’re listening to “Check it Out.” 

Today, I’m recommending The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehesi Coates. You may have read this author’s powerful nonfiction, including Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power, but now Coates has focused his talent on fiction, and with a brilliance not often seen in a first novel.

The Water Dancer is the story of Hiram Walker, born a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation just before the Civil War. One of Hiram’s gifts is a photographic memory. Hiram is called up to the big house often to perform his memory tricks for the white folks. 

Another gift Hiram later discovers is the power of conduction, which allows him to transport himself great distances, sometimes with others in tow, fueled by the power of memories. Here Coates blends fantasy with reality in a way that reminded me of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. 

The book is a page-turner, with love stories, slave chases, and acts of betrayal. A review in the New York Times says: “The Water Dancer” is … a crowd-pleasing exercise in breakneck and often occult storytelling that tonally resembles the work of Stephen King as much as it does the work of Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead and the touchstone African-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler.”

Check out The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehesi Coates, and other great works of fiction by African American authors, at the Sioux City Public Library. 

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Avery Brothers.