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The Water Dancer (Oprah’s Book Club)

A Novel
Written by: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Narrated by: Joe Morton
Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (121 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number-One New York Times Best Seller

Oprah’s Book Club Pick

From the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

“This potent book about America’s most disgraceful sin establishes [Ta-Nehisi Coates] as a first-rate novelist.” (San Francisco Chronicle) 

Nominated for the NAACP Image Award • Named One of Paste’s Best Novels of the Decade • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by Time The Washington Post • Chicago Tribune • Vanity Fair • Esquire • Good Housekeeping • Paste • Town & Country • The New York Public Library • The Dallas Morning News • Kirkus Reviews • Library Journal

“Nearly every paragraph is laced through with dense, gorgeously evocative descriptions of a vanished world and steeped in its own vivid vocabulary.” (Entertainment Weekly)

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her - but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children - the violent and capricious separation of families - and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Praise for The Water Dancer

"Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most important essayist in a generation and a writer who changed the national political conversation about race with his 2015 memoir, Between the World and Me. So naturally his debut novel comes with slightly unrealistic expectations - and then proceeds to exceed them. The Water Dancer...is a work of both staggering imagination and rich historical significance.... What’s most powerful is the way Coates enlists his notions of the fantastic, as well as his fluid prose, to probe a wound that never seems to heal.... Timeless and instantly canon-worthy." (Rolling Stone)

©2019 Ta-Nehisi Coates (P)2019 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Joe Morton doesn't just give a stellar performance of Coates's audiobook. He embodies its characters completely, making the listening experience cinematic.... Coates's first novel is steeped in magical realism, yet the parallels to America's past are clear, making this a not-to-miss listening experience. Morton's narration is equally powerful - among the year's best." (AudioFile Magazine)

"Coates balances the horrors of slavery against the fantastical. He extends the idea of the gifts of the disenfranchised to include a kind of superpower. But The Water Dancer is very much its own book, and its gestures toward otherworldliness remain grounded. In the end, it is a novel interested in the psychological effects of slavery, a grief that Coates is especially adept at parsing.... In Coates’s world, an embrace can be a revelation, rare and astonishing." (Esi Edugyan, The New York Times Book Review

"The most surprising thing about The Water Dancer may be its unambiguous narrative ambition. This isn’t a typical first novel.... The Water Dancer is a jeroboam of a book, 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.... It is flecked with forms of wonder-working that push at the boundaries of what we still seem to be calling magical realism." (Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Coates isn’t dropping supernatural garnish onto The Water Dancer any more than Toni Morrison sends a ghost whooshing through Beloved for cheap thrills. Instead, Coates’s fantastical elements are deeply integral to his novel, a way of representing something larger and more profound than the confines of realism could contain." (The Washington Post

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Truly remarkable tale

This unique novel is narrated by the most talented man who breaks out into song intermittently. What an unusual addition to a most enchanting novel.
This is the number 1 for the year in my opinion!

2 people found this helpful

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Fabulous Story

This is not normally the type of book I would read but it was well worth every moment. Although the story is fiction the it felt very real. To be enslaved with no control over any aspect of your life is uncomprehendable and what would you do to escape? There is so much more to this. Very well written and told beautifully by Joe Morton the perfect voice for the telling.

4 people found this helpful

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Magical and beautiful

This story is magical and beautiful. The narration is so powerful in its ability to place you in every circumstance that you feel like you can not only experience but touch.
Beautiful.

1 person found this helpful

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Great narrator

What an amazing read, narrator was brilliantly chosen. I did not want to stop listening to eat. What a remarkable depiction of the era of the Underground Railroad, the lack of racist words or the depiction of physical abuse. It made the book definitely more tolerable to read, yet my heart still pained at times listening to the many injustice that happened.

1 person found this helpful

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Loss for words

I am at a loss for words on how amazing this story is.
Especially on audible, with the singing. All i can say is it is an important read and you need to get it in your life

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Story-telling At Its Best

The first sentence was long and breathless and intriguing. I wanted to know more about the ‘stone bridge”, and “she”, and the “I” who “avoided that bridge”. The rest of the story and the beautiful writing didn’t disappoint.

Joe Morton has a gift for creating theatre for the mind.

I’ve recommended this novel on my Facebook page, and like I’ve said there, It’s a story you wouldn’t soon forget.

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Confusing

Confusing story. Didn't like it. too many characters, too many story lines. Hard to follow. Which is so unfortunate for such an important topic such as slavery.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Cammie
  • 2019-09-28

We Must Always Remember

This is SO not what I was expecting. I was expecting to be broken by the story of slavery, the brutality and terror of it. Instead, I heard the story of beautiful, complex and fully fleshed out human beings. Exploring life and love and magic and memory and power and blessings and war. So well written and wonderfully narrated.

130 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-11-13

Pay attention

I enjoyed this novel, but there are so many small details and it flips between scenes so much that if you don’t pay attention fully to it, you will miss a lot of details. Overall it was an intriguing story.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Jean
  • 2019-11-28

Impressive

This is my first book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a fiction with an interesting premise “What if memory had the power to transport enslaved people to freedom?” The protagonist is Hiram Walker, who can remember everything with photographic recall except his mother.

This is a beautifully written book about slavery. I had a bit of a problem with the magical realism. It took me a awhile to adjust. Otherwise, this is a fantastic book that uses language in an almost magical way. The author has a powerful imagination and is an exceptionally gifted writer.

The book is fourteen hours and fourteen minutes. Joe Morton does a good job narrating the book. Morton is an actor and audiobook narrator.

27 people found this helpful

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  • Pamela J
  • 2019-09-25

Poetry in book form

This very powerful book reads like poetry! It's beautifully written and paints the scene and the emotions that are carried in them, perfectly. The storyteller, Hiram, has a life that is complex, emotional, and complicated in a way I imagine the life of someone who is one of "the tasked" (he seldom uses the word slave) must feel. But rather than just leave it as the story of brutal history, the author adds this element of magic, similar to how Toni Morrison did that makes it difficult to know when it's coming, that just adds more depth, fear, and intrigue to the story. I can't imagine anyone other than the amazing Joe Morton narrating this story so well. I love when authors (who aren't actors) are smart enough to get true professionals to deliver their stories and Morton doesn't let you down. I don't think everyone will love this book as much as I did, it takes some dedication to plow through it, but if you're willing to surrender to the story and live through the sometimes complicated parts of it, you'll enjoy the gifts of a truly talented writer.

91 people found this helpful

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  • Annie
  • 2019-11-28

A bit long for the story to be told

I was somewhat disappointed in this book because I really was not sure what the story was trying to tell. (Call me not well informed if you wish). I do understand that the jest of the story was about slavery and the horrors of that time, but I felt it could have been told in a much more interesting way. The narration was fine but the story itself was lacking.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Kimberley
  • 2019-10-08

Too Eloquent for Me

I think of myself as a fairly educated person and I really struggled to comprehend what was being said in this book. The words and phrasing was just "above me" and I didn't really get into the story at all. The narrator was AMAZING and I'll look for more of his work.

Sorry Oprah, I really wanted to love this one!

67 people found this helpful

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  • Patrick Day
  • 2019-10-21

Author Didn't Know When to Quit

This could have been a very good 9- or 10 hour audiobook, but the author seemed to fall in love with his own words, and the second half of the book became repetetive, tedious
and boring. I loved the first half, but later, couldn't waitfor it to end.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Christina
  • 2019-09-29

Powerful in surprising ways!

Of the 30 books I’ve read so far this year, this is my absolute favorite!!!! The method of storytelling lures you in and quickly gets you committed to seeing the resolution of the story/stories represented. I also love the fact that the entire story shared the impact of a strong part of our cultural history to the history of our country. Aaaand I love the imperfections of each character and how each character grows in their own journey.

“To forgive is irrelevant. To forget is death.”

30 people found this helpful

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  • Richard Van Voris
  • 2019-09-30

started well but lost me

I loved the first half of this book but it began to get very fuzzy and lost me.
I finished it hoping for a big finale but if it were there I missed it

35 people found this helpful

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  • Carmen Lang
  • 2020-01-26

UGH! I wanted SO much to like this book.

Okay let me start off by saying it's no small feat to publish a historical novel AND get it in O's book club. I'm proud of this young man as an author but I must be honest. That being said. I can't with this book ...I grew up in Virginia and am very familiar with antebellum period books...as they are one of my fav's to read. I found this book underdeveloped. First the use of the the term "colored" for that time period was incorrect and it grated on my nerves the entire time I listened. Also at one point "Harriet" states that she only sticks to the areas she knows " southern shores of MD" it's a well known fact that Harriet traveled down even to the deep south to collect those in bondage. And what's up with the meeting convention in the woods where there are people promoting free-love and communism at this time period??!! Then they get a letter delivered to them in the middle of the woods. Sorry there were historical mistakes in this book.

Also to me the characters were hard to follow, the wording was flowery and really lead nowhere. I would have like to have seen a lot more cohesion of the story line. I found myself saying wth this book is all over the place. Sorry I'll be returning this one. I got to chapter 25 "to give it a chance' I just can't.

4 people found this helpful