Pinterest tracking pixel
If you are having difficulty navigating this website please contact us at or 1-877-236-8540.
Oops! The page didn’t load right. Please refresh and try again.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Literary fiction

The Water Dancer

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Ta-Nehisi Coates, on your first book!

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Quick take

A brutal reality with a touch of magic. Take your time with this somber, profound, and rigorous read.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral


  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious


Illustrated icon, Icon_VeryChallenging_Indicator

Challenging read

This is a nonlinear book with complex writing and a nontraditional plot structure. Read if you like to dig into rigorous novels with numerous concepts and characters.

Why I love it

Casey Gerald
Author, There Will Be No Miracles Here

I am a descendant of enslaved black Americans; someone whose mother disappeared, for a time, when I was young; and, as a memoirist, I’m a writer who remembers for a living. For these reasons, I was in tears by the ninth page of The Water Dancer. What kept me turning the page was the joy I found in witnessing a story I thought I knew, told in a way I’d never seen it told before.

The novel follows Hi, a young man in the throes of slavery in Virginia, who yearns to be free and, increasingly, is willing to pay the cost to do so. When his escape leads him from the plantation to the headquarters of an underground resistance, Hi finds himself on a quest to remember his past—not simply as an elegy, but as a way of conjuring a magical ability that will help him reach his destination.

In heartbreaking and beautiful language, Coates takes us beyond the brass tacks of an escape-from-slavery narrative. Not only do we witness Hi’s journey toward freedom, we also witness his journey to reclaim an inner life that has been plundered by slavery, that Peculiar(ly evil) Institution. As one of Hi’s early caretakers warns, “And though it hurt sometime, you cannot forget … You cannot forget.” With The Water Dancer, Coates helps us to remember. This is no easy read, but like so much of Coates’s work, it is vital. I am grateful.

Read less


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 utopic 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.

Read less


Get an early look from the first pages of The Water Dancer.

Read a sample →

Member thoughts

All (6246)
All (6246)
Love (3204)
Like (2449)
Dislike (593)
6604 ratings
  • 49% Love
  • 37% Like
  • 9% Dislike
    Literary fiction
    • Transcendent Kingdom
    • Dominicana
    • What's Mine and Yours
    • Vladimir
    • Infinite Country
    • The Prophets
    • Normal People
    • True Biz
    • The Verifiers
    • Betty
    • Salvage the Bones
    • Ask Again, Yes
    • Black Buck
    • The History of Love
    • Luster
    • The Remains of the Day
    • The Secret History
    • The Kite Runner
    • Memorial
    • The Gifted School
    • The Death of Vivek Oji
    • Valentine
    • Leave the World Behind
    • The Knockout Queen
    • Yerba Buena
    • Free Food for Millionaires
    • A Burning
    • Writers & Lovers
    • The Mothers
    • The Water Dancer
    • Sing, Unburied, Sing
    • Small Country
    • The Sympathizer
    • Fleishman Is in Trouble
    • Lot
    • An American Marriage
    • The Animators
    • The Leavers
    • Swing Time
    • The Mars Room
    • Exit West
    • The Windfall
    • Goodbye, Vitamin
    • White Fur
    • Chemistry
    • Woman No. 17
    • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
    • Eat Only When You're Hungry
    • Rainbirds
    • Unsheltered
    • A Ladder to the Sky
    • Golden Child
    • Lost and Wanted
    • The Goldfinch
    • Little Women
    • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
    • & Sons
    • The Association of Small Bombs
    • Lolly Willowes
    • All Grown Up
    • Marlena
    • The Light Pirate
    • Signal Fires
    • Someday, Maybe
    • The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
    • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
    • Woman of Light
    • Mercury Pictures Presents
    • Marrying the Ketchups