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The Water Dancer: Review, Summary and Analysis

Discover a thought-provoking journey through history, race, and superpower in 'The Water Dancer' – a novel that sparks reflection and conversation.

Young Hiram Walker was born into slavery. He lost his mother and all memories of her, and at the same time, he was given a mysterious power.

Once, Sheeran accidentally fell into a river while driving a carriage. When he was about to drown, a blue light led him out of danger, and Sheeran survived. 

The experience of escaping death caused him to reexamine his life, the decaying plantation, and the evils of slavery. Eventually, Sheeran decided to run away from his only home.

Escape from hell is not easy. By chance, Sheeran joins the secret war against slavery. In this cruel trial, he traveled between the gloomy prison of escaped slaves, the dangerous hinterland of the South, and the crisis-ridden Northern Free State. 

Sheeran makes real friends, experiences adventures he never imagined, and finally understands what this war means. More importantly, he began to understand what the mysterious power in himself was.

However, what Sheeran wants to do most is to return to his hometown to save his remaining relatives. With the wisdom given by war, with the courage to face the darkness, and with the divine power in him, can Sheeran succeed?

"The Water Dancer" is the first novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the most famous contemporary American writers. 

Coates seamlessly interweaves real history with wonderful imagination, leading readers back to the wild America during the slavery era. 

The characters he writes seem to have come from the depths of history, telling us about a wound that has not yet healed. Painful memory.

Book: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer is the debut novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates, published on September 24, 2019, by Random House under its One World imprint.

Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author and journalist. He gained a wide readership during his time as a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he wrote about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans and white supremacy. ——Wikipedia

About the Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates

A famous contemporary American writer and journalist, he won the MacArthur Fellowship in 2015 and was selected as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time Magazine in 2016. 

"The Beautiful Struggle" was published in 2008; "Between the World and Me" was published in 2015, which won the National Book Award and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. List.

Short Comment

The language in many passages is as beautiful as poetry and as blazing as fireworks. This is a story about race but not limited to race, as well as family, love, humanity, and philosophy. 

What I found most confusing after reading it was that the superpower 'conduction' possessed by the male protagonist did not give me a very necessary feeling. 

It felt like it was added deliberately to add a sense of fantasy. Ignoring the conduction completely, I personally think it would be a perfect novel, but it would no longer be The Water Dancer.

Original Excerpt:

Oh, to be back there, and be young again. To be seated in the dawning hours of my life, the sun of everything breaking over the horizon, and all the promises and tragedies ahead of me. To be there in that chaise, with a day-pass, and a girl I loved more than anything, in the last doleful days of old and desolate Virginia. Oh, to be there with time to spare, with time to dream of riding out as far as that Elm County road went until fortune abandoned us.——Quoted from page 380

But I now knew the truth—that Maynard's folly, though more profane, was unoriginal. The masters could not bring water to boil, harness a horse, or strap their own drawers without us. We were better than them—we had to be. Sloth was literal death for us, while for them it was the whole ambition of their lives.——Quoted from page 44

Book Summary

In 2019, Thanasis Coates, one of the most influential writers in the United States today, published his first novel "The Water Dancer", which sold more than 1 million copies that year.

This novel has been selected into the annual book lists selected by media and institutions such as Time, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, National Public Radio, and the New York Public Library. 

The Goodreads website, known as the "American version of Douban", gave this novel a high score of 4.1, with more than 100,000 readers rating it.

It is reported that a film and television adaptation plan of the novel has been put on the agenda. Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey will team up with MGM to produce a film adaptation of the same name, and Coates himself will write the script.

He is a grand prize winner and a "treasure cross-border writer"

In 2015, Thanasis Coates won the National Book Award and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award for his book "Between the World and Me" and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Society of Book Critics Circle. Award finalist; this book ranks seventh among the Guardian's 100 Best Books of the First Decade of the 21st Century.

Previously, Coates' long reports and columns published in media such as The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, and The Washington Post have received widespread and enthusiastic responses. 

His other non-fiction books "Beautiful Struggle", "We Were " We Were Eight Years in Power " provide an in-depth, comprehensive, and sometimes harsh examination of the ethnic conflicts and political malaise in the United States.

Coates grew up in Baltimore, a city rife with drugs and gang violence. While many of his peers dropped out of school early and inevitably fell into the dangerous abyss of crime, Coates worked his way out. 

Coates' father, Paul, is a publisher. He believes that the value of a person is equivalent to the book he recently read. 

Every page of the book will drag you out of the numb state. Paul collected out-of-print books and little-known speeches to rectify the names of forgotten black writers and scholars. 

In 1978, Paul founded the Black Classic Press in the basement of his home, which has been in operation to this day.

Paul was extremely strict with Coates. He constantly assigned his son reading lists and required Coates to write reading reports. Paul encouraged Coates to learn about African-American history and culture and learn ethnic music. 

In the street life where crisis lurked, Coates used books and knowledge as a shield and finally embarked on the path of writing.

His grassroots origins and lower-class life experience give Coates a unique perspective of observation. Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison believes that only Coates "can fill the ideological void left by James Baldwin". 

Another contemporary American literary giant, Philip Roth, once admitted that he had new thoughts on ethnic issues after reading Coates’s works. Some say Coates seemed to have single-handedly awakened a nation.

Coates's creative work covers a wide range of areas. From 2016 to 2021, he successively served as the screenwriter of Marvel's comics "Black Panther" and "Captain America", providing readers with a completely different storyline from the previous "Superhero Comics". 

When such a "treasure writer" starts writing novels, people can't help but wonder what surprises he will bring this time.

If memories could trigger "superpowers":

A new attempt at magical realism

Perhaps the most surprising thing about "The Water Dancer" is its unambiguous narrative ambition. The New York Times even said that "this novel broadens the boundaries of magical realism. "

The novel is written in the voice of the protagonist Sheeran Walker. Young Sheeran was born into slavery and was gifted with the ability to remember photographs. 

But in a world of slavery, where black people were the property of white slave owners, Sheeran's talents only made him a more sought-after "good." Through Sheeran's eyes, readers see how black slaves were arbitrarily auctioned, rented, and abused. 

When the increasingly barren southern land could no longer sustain the luxurious life of white slave owners, black slaves became the only source of wealth.

Slavery took everything from Sheeran, he lost almost all his family, and his mother was put on the auction block. Once, Sheeran accidentally fell into a river while driving a carriage. 

When he was about to drown, fragments of his mother's memory appeared in front of his eyes. A mysterious force led him out of danger, and Sheeran survived. 

The experience of escaping death caused him to reexamine his life, the decaying plantation, and the evils of slavery. Eventually, Sheeran decided to run away from his only home.

Escape from hell is not easy. By chance, Sheeran joined the underground organization that fought against slavery and helped black slaves escape to the free North. 

In this cruel trial, he traveled between the gloomy prison of escaped slaves, the dangerous hinterland of the South, and the crisis-ridden Northern Free State. 

Sheeran makes real friends, experiences adventures he never imagined, and finally understands what this war means. More importantly, he began to understand what the mysterious power in himself was.

Toni Morrison once wrote: "Memory is a burden and a necessity, but it contains the possibility of freedom." 

"Water Dancer" implements Morrison's sentence in a literary form Quote: What would change if memory itself could lead enslaved people to freedom?

In "Water Dancer", the mysterious power of the protagonist Sheeran is a superpower called "Transfer", which can quickly transport people to the place they want. 

Legend has it that Sheeran's maternal grandmother, Santibes, used this superpower to teleport 48 slaves back to their hometown in Africa. 

However, to use "Transfer" freely, you must call upon the deepest memory in your mind. The longer the memory is preserved, the farther away the "Transfer" can go.

In the novel, Harriet, the legendary figure of the underground organization and Sheeran’s mentor, once revealed the secret of “passing on”: “We don’t forget anything”, “Because memory is a chariot, memory is a road, and memory is a slave. The curse of oppression leads to freedom. ” Preserving memory means preserving real history. 

From this perspective, Coates's novel uses magical realism to not only reconstruct the historical narrative of African Americans but can also be regarded as a profound allegory for contemporary people.  

When survivors can face the memories deep in their hearts, especially those traumatic memories that are too cruel, they can get rid of the entanglements and imprisonment of the past and gain true spiritual freedom.

How male writers write about women and love

As a coming-of-age novel, the plot of "Water Dancer" revolves around the protagonist Sheeran. But it is worth mentioning that the most colorful part of this novel is the creation of female characters.

Whether it is Sheeran's stern adoptive mother Sina, her strategizing mentor Harriet, or Colleen, the core figure of the underground organization, they use great courage to defend individuals, families, and beliefs in an unfair world. 

They are not secondary characters attached to the protagonist. Some readers even believe that these female characters are the background of the novel. It was their character and intelligence that profoundly changed Sheeran and helped him become a better person.

These female characters are completely different from the previous imagination of women in the 19th century, and they are not images created by the author out of thin air. 

In order to write this novel, Coates read a large number of historical documents about the pre-Civil War period in the United States. Those brave women who existed in history influenced Coates's creation.

The most important female character in the novel is Sheeran's lover Sophia. At first glance, Sophia seems to have all the elements of a "bitter heroine": as a black slave, she was forced to leave her hometown, become the mistress of a white slave owner, and under constant surveillance. 

The white slave owner "required her to wear the clothes of a noble lady when going to his manor, but stipulated that she must enter and exit through the back door of the manor." 

However, Sophia never stopped fighting against fate for a moment. She wanted to escape from this purgatory.

The changes in Sheeran's relationship with Sophia also reflect his own growth. Sheeran's white father took possession of his black mother in a predatory way, and when Sheeran realized that he loved Sophia, his only reference was his own father, so his vague feelings for Sophia were only expressed as a kind of love. Exclusive, he wants Sophia to be "his Sophia". But Sophia does not accept such love. 

The partnership she wants is based on understanding and respect, rather than a simple relationship of subordination. In her opinion, the latter is no different from slavery.

Coates once said in an interview that the love between Sheeran and Sophia is one of the cores of the novel. 

Coates said that in traditional adventure stories, the female character is the target of the male protagonist's action, "' My wife was killed, and now I have to do the following things.' 

I really want to avoid such a plot, I really "The hope is that Sheeran won't treat women as a reward to make up for the humiliation he's been subjected to ." 

Therefore, as the plot progresses, Sheeran gradually realizes that if he treats Sophia as his possession, he cannot truly achieve personal success. Freedom and that's what Sophia made clear to Sheeran at the beginning of their relationship.

"Rolling Stone" magazine commented that "Water Dancer" is a "timeless classic. " For this story, Coates spent more than ten years conceiving and collecting information. 

Now "Water Dancer" is presented to readers with a kaleidoscopic imagination and a language as natural as flowing clouds. This novel originated from the depths of history and cares about It is the present and the future.

Book Review

That country on the other side of the Pacific declared to the world in the Declaration of Independence, one of its important founding documents, that "all men are created equal." 

This was the first time in human history that the rights of the people were declared sacred in the name of a country. Violating. But it seems that until today, this slogan has not been truly realized. 

There is a deep-rooted "discrimination" problem that spans hundreds of years of their national history. Problems still occur frequently. 

No matter how many bills or amendments are made, they have not really had an effect. , even if legal racial isolation no longer exists, the gap in people's hearts has always been difficult to bridge, which shows a puzzling contradiction.

Films such as "Hidden Figures", "Glory Days", "Black Lightning", "The Butler" and "12 Years a Slave" illustrate the existence of the problem from different career fields, historical stories, and character creation, and have been calling for solutions to the problem. 

"Green Book", which won multiple awards at the 91st Academy Awards, once again successfully portrayed the difficulties faced by people of color. 

"There are so many lonely people in the world because they don't have the courage to take the first step."

" This line touched countless people. The film created a subversion of identity that was different from the past, forming a strong dramatic conflict. The film's global popularity has once again triggered widespread thinking.

In addition to these, we can also turn our attention to the field of literature. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" powerfully reveals the real living conditions of black slaves in a period, and is full of protests and cries for injustice; "Black Cotton Field" is a book that is deeply rooted in the hearts of the people. 

The brushstrokes describe the various discriminations and racial conflicts suffered by black people, calling for the attention of all walks of life in the world. There are many such works. 

Michael Bergen once wrote in "American Slavery: The Underground Railroad" that "if you don't understand the role of slavery in American life and development, it is extremely difficult to understand many of the problems in American society today." 

Author of "Dancer in the Water" The famous contemporary American writer and journalist Thanasis Coates uses his works to reveal to us the barbarity of slavery in the true historical context. 

Coates once revealed racial discrimination and expressed the personal experience of being a black man with his work "Between the World and Me". 

He won the National Book Award and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist.

With the sharp writing style, mixed writing style, and philosophical and poetic language in his previous works, "The Water Dancer", Coates' first novel, pays more attention to the shaping of the story and the characterization of the characters. The only thing a person cannot choose is birth. 

You may be born with a silver spoon or a jade in your mouth, or you may be born as a slave like the protagonist Cierlan Walker. 

This kind of no-choice fate always makes the reading of this story always have a certain feeling. He felt helpless, but the author gave him a chance to change, and it was a wonderful change with a magical color.

Being born smart, no matter how hard he tried, he could not change the reality of being a slave, just like everyone else who was also a slave. Spontaneous changes in people are by no means a long-term accumulation process. 

In a carriage accident, Xilan fell into a river and drowned. When he was drowning, a blue light brought him hope of life and gave him a magical power. Ability also gave him the decision to change everything. 

After experiencing the fear of death, it seemed that reality could no longer control him. He re-examined his current life and environment. He was unwilling to be regarded as private "property" and "goods" for trading. , he wants to escape from the present.

Through Sheeran's first person, we can follow the author's story narration very well and be immersed in the story in the real historical background. 

In addition to the labor and injustice of slaves, black people also suffered arbitrary auctions, rentals, and inhumane bullying. 

I hope that The place that Mr. Lan wants to escape from is actually just a part of "hell". The entire external environment is like "hell". There is no way to escape from this land full of discrimination and injustice. 

His experiences along the way are even more disturbing. It is striking and at the same time presents the selfishness and luxury of the white world in a contrasting form, and everything is achieved for them by black slaves.

In his constant escape, Sheeran became a warrior against slavery. He gradually understood the "transfer" superpower he had obtained and remembered the "transfer" story of his grandmother Santibeth, and this ability requires the use of "transfer". 

With the support of "memory", Harriet, Sheeran's mentor and the legendary figure of the underground organization, reveals to us the true meaning of "passing on". We must use memory to remember history. 

Only by remembering the misfortune of the past can we make peace. We have the courage and strength to continue to "fight". This is the case for Sheeran in the story, the same is true for the resistance in reality, and the same is true for us.

"The Boston Post" praised "The Water Dancer", "Coates has always been good at expressing complex ideas, integrating deep insights into American history with dazzling writing skills, and this time is no exception... This book uses the history of Prism, and tells an unforgettable adventure story." 

The problems reflected in the work still exist today, emphasizing that racial discrimination in the United States has a long and deep-rooted history, and will continue to persist, but as long as some people are resisting, it will inevitably change, and the reality The same is true for many things in the movie. Even if we can't have magical abilities like Sheeran, we still have our own beliefs.

Book Analysis

"What I want is what I've always wanted, what I've always told you I want. I want my own hands and feet, my own arms, my own smile, all of my own precious body parts to be mine Myself, only belongs to me." 

Even though the author Thanasis Coates narrates the story about Virginia and Unlocked Village in the form of a novel, readers can still read the cruelty in the story. 

The children who were sold at birth, the black slaves who would be left behind when they were old and lustful, and the old man who fell in love with his daughter-in-law all longed for freedom for themselves and their families. 

However, they have no freedom and are merely the belongings or property of their owners. 

They tried to work hard to save money for themselves and their families, but nothing happened. 

Before they could reunite with their families, they were separated from their wives and children, separated from their flesh and blood, and even separated forever. 

★ Cierlan Walker has his blessings and misfortunes. 

He has an extraordinary memory, except that he has no memory of Rosemary's mother. 

(His mother, Rose, was sold by his father when Sheeran was five years old.) 

His father arranged for him to be his brother Maynard's personal servant. 

His talent and intelligence earned him the attention of his father and the attention of his teacher, Mr. Hiltz. He once did not dare to hope for education and knowledge, but he was frightened. 

He is no worse than Maynard, on the contrary, he is better and more qualified to be the next owner of Unlocked Village. 

Just because he was black, Maynard was white, the favored son who was let loose by his father. 

However, he seemed to be in a better situation than other black people without masters, and would not be beaten or injured due to occasional conflicts. 

This "goodness" is not true superiority and freedom. 

★ Sheeran, who had never thought about leaving Wusuo Village, became yearning for the outside world because of Maynard's drowning, his love for Sophia, and the legends about his grandmother. 

He wants freedom, the freedom to live with his lover without being bound. 

Unfortunately, he took Georgie's word for granted. Maybe Georgie secretly persuaded him not to leave. 

Sheeran still had a plan in mind and accidentally fell into the trap of Sheeran and Rylan's hunting dogs. 

★ Joining the organization and implementing the rescue plan are both active and passive actions of Sheeran. 

He could not leave behind Sina, who regarded him as his own child, and Sophia, who missed him day and night. 

He also felt Ota's pain and the shock of Hiltz's tragic death. People with the same fate should not be just items that can be resold at the drop of a hat. 

Xilan didn't learn the power of "transfer" until very late. Grandmother's legendary story, Colleen Quinn's many twists and turns, and the predecessors who worked hard to save those who were chained. 

The hidden debt crisis of Wusuozhuang forced Sheeran to find a way to take Xina and Sophia away as soon as possible. 

Masters reselling their slaves could temporarily fill the economic gap. 

But none of them wanted to leave. Xina witnessed her five children being sold publicly and could not bear to reacquaint herself with her daughter Kesia. 

The pain of bereavement used to be too painful. The reunion will only remind Xina of the powerlessness and heartbreak she felt at that time. 

Sophia is Uncle Hiran's maid. She does want to have her own freedom, but not the kind of freedom that belongs to someone else. 

She told Sheeran that she would never belong to anyone who wanted to be with her. She is not replacing a white man with a black man (partner. 

★ "This is not the end of us, we will not die like this." I don't think the end of the book is the end, but a temporary end. 

As long as slavery has not been abolished, then Virginia and Natchez Road will continue to be the nightmare of slaves who lost their freedom. 

The story of being bound and rescued is to be continued.

Reading Notes

By that time, I had read a lot about Philadelphia. I know, therefore, that during the old days of slavery in Pennsylvania there was a fever epidemic in the city. Many people tried to stop the spread of the fever, one of whom was Benjamin Rush. 

He was a famous doctor, and it was this fact that I found hard to accept: the theories he advanced in defense of the city were so shameful. 

He told the residents of Philadelphia that people of color were immune to fever, and not only were they immune, but their presence alone would improve air quality. We breathe in the bane of the virus and imprison it in our fetid black bodies. 

So, hundreds of black slaves were brought into the city based on the theory that our bodies were imbued with black magic. 

They are all dead. Their corpses began to pile up in the city, and slave owners looked for open spaces to bury the bodies away from the cemeteries of whites who also died of fever. They picked a desolate open space and threw us into a pit. 

A few years later, when the fever and plague were forgotten and the war gave birth to a new country, they built rows of neat and elegant residences on top of the black corpses and named a square after the general who led their liberation. 

I suddenly realized that even here, in the free north, the beauty of this world is built on our bodies.

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