Saturday, 11 July 2020

The Water Dancer. (Mindscape Reviews!)

Hi Readers! After two long weeks of reading, I was finally able to finish The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book kept popping everywhere. It is recommended by Oprah’s Book Club among many other people who have highly recommended it. When I read the description, I myself was quite intrigued. So, I ordered the book & finally finished it today. Thoughts followed below!



The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is the story of Hiram Walker, set in the times when coloured people were treated as slaves. We watch Hiram, who has lost his mother, to go seek shelter with Thena. Hiram starts working as a slave for his white father Howell Walker & half-brother Maynard Walker. Soon after, we see him go through immense struggles to finally become a part of the Underground. We see Hiram start off as an intelligent boy to grow into a sensible one. This story focuses on the cruelties of slavery. It also has a bit of magical realism in it. It is a 403-page book with not a lot to offer.


Hiram Walker is the protagonist of the story. He never forgets anything, is brilliant, can read, can do woodwork & has the hidden skill of water dancing. He talks about Thena who took him in when his mother was sold off. He also talks about Sophia who he loves. But, in all of this, it looks like he is reciting for a play, because I couldn’t feel any emotion behind it. In the book itself, they mention how he grows up in the span of just one year, but I couldn’t feel that to that much of an extent.

Sophia is her own woman. I liked her character. Even in those times, she talked of being free & not bound to anyone but her won self. She was brilliant in a more human sense. And still, she never touched me either.

Then we have our cast of the Underground. Corrinne Quinn, Hawkins & Amy who are set up in Elm County. We have the White family & lastly Micajah Bland aka Mr. Fields. There was a lot that could have been worked out deeper on the character of Mr. Fields, so I couldn’t feel that either. I was hoping a lot from Moses. But, given how she was talked about so highly, I didn’t think she would be introduced in such a normal manner, much less continue to be so normal.

In short, all the characters are real only up to 60% of themselves, if that makes sense. None of them really become someone whole with dreams or a life of their own. They are just fictional characters who never become more than that, which was a shame.


I had heard a lot about Ta-Nehisi Coates & his mastery in the world of non-fiction writing. His book ‘Between the World and Me’ has been on my TBR since a long time. But, I’m not a fan of non-fiction & so when he wrote a fictional novel, I had to read it. It only led to disappointment. I never really vibed with his writing style. Reading this book was like knowing there was some level of poetic literary aspect to it, but it was so far hidden, it never materialized to the surface. I have more complaints about the writing & narrative. All these allegedly amazing characters just seemed so distant. There was no sentiment in the dialogue between the characters nor in the memories or anywhere else. I found the characters to be really flat. Even the narrator Hiram Walker. We read with him the entire novel but he just seems like a robot. I never really got to know them.

The main topic in this is a war against slavery. With war novels such as ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ or ‘The Nightingale’, the feelings & emotions rise up to overflow. But, nothing of the sort happened to me while reading this novel. It wasn’t a war with guns, it was a war with deep rooted wrongs of the society. So, in that way, it should have brought out even more feelings, but the opposite of that happened here.

Now, about the Conduction. Usually I love magical realism introduced in a normal life scenario. But, when you are writing a book on an important topic as slavery, you just cannot introduce something like magical realism to it. It completely removed the little bit built up emotion that the reader might have felt. I really liked both the concepts. Both concepts are brilliant, but when taken together, it did not work very well. This takes me to the purpose of the novel.

What was even the purpose of this story?

To stress on the war against slavery?

To introduce us to Hiram’s story?

To tell us about the Underground?

To fascinate us about the Conduction?

I failed to see the real purpose behind this story.

I also wanted to discuss about the predictability of the novel. I was hoping that Moses would actually be Hiram’s mother, but that was just my theory that did not come true. Given the weightage given to his mother & her water-dancing, I really thought she would show up somewhere in the novel, but no such luck. So, that part was unpredictable, but not good unpredictable. The other things such as Hiram & Sophia fleeing only to get caught was obviously predictable. Also, him returning to Lockless was foreseen. The only interesting parts were those in Philadelphia where he went on missions. I’d have liked to read more of that. It reminded me of Isabel Rosignol’s missions in The Nightinagle.



When I started reading this book, I was unable to really get into it. I suffered through the first 100 pages. But then, the story actually progressed when we get to see Hiram joining the Underground in a real sense & doing meaningful work in Philadelphia & so on. My interest piqued when I finally understood what the title stood for – the Conduction. And, then, in the last 100 pages, it got boring again. I usually don’t have so many ups & downs in a book except with this one, which leaves me to rate it at 3/5!

Until next time,

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