The Water Dancer was about slavery and I don’t know why I didn’t expect a novel by Ta-Nahasi Cotes to not be about slavery. At least this book about slavery was written by someone black (read my qualms about slavery books by non-black people here).
Books, fiction or nonfiction, about slavery just don’t do it for me. It’s not because I think slavery was a choice or that I don’t understand the atrocities or how the effects ripple through our institutions to this day. I just think stories about slavery are very limiting towards black people.
This is also not to say we should just stop talking about slavery as a society. If anything, we need to talk more about it. We need to counter the messages in the textbooks (that are still being used today) conveying slaves as happy little savages grateful from being saved and tamed by the white man.
All I’m saying is that I don’t particularly like reading about slavery for leisure. I love sad works of art, but books about slavery evoke a certain sadness linked with guilt and animosity I’m not ready to explore within myself yet.
My distaste all started when I tried to watch the remake of Roots on Hulu. I couldn’t make it past the first 30 minutes of the first episode without wanting to riot against white people. I didn’t want to embrace that hate in my heart.
The Water Dancer took me a long time to get into and overall, it wasn’t a life-shattering read for me, but I did like the overall theme and message. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but I will say that I really connected to the metaphor of using the power of our stories and memories, especially if they are painful and sad. This metaphor was very suitable to be set in the time of slavery.
I’m thinking I had a hard time getting into things because the narrator (because I’m all about those audiobooks, don’t come for me) and Ta-Nahasi’s fiction writing just doesn’t really pump my gnads (shoutout to Bender from the great problematic film The Breakfast Club).
But if it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough to engage white people in conversations about slavery, so I’d say it’s a win!