“I need to listen well so that I hear what is not said” Thuli Madonsela

As we head into winter, what could be better than putting on our reading socks, grabbing a throw and tucking in with a great read? That’s exactly how I intend to spend this season and I hope you’ll join me. Reading has many benefits, as Sonya has pointed out, and Oprah’s Book Club has just kicked off last month. It’s truly fun to see Oprah on TV again (Apple TV + is free for a 1 year trial, so check it out) especially since her first new Book Club selection is a book I have been dying to read. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Water Dancer” is a beautiful first novel from one of my favourite writers. Be sure to read the book before watching the show though, as Oprah says, they “spill the tea”. 

“You’re alone with the work for so long…” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Oprah Interview)

After 10 years of writing this novel, it’s finally our turn to participate in the process and read it. Reading the novel weaves the past and present together in ways that only the best fiction can. “The story is.. mainly about memory and the weight of memory,”  (Coates). The main character, Hiram Walker, an enslaved man, has the gift of an eidetic memory. He remembers events, stories that were told to him in such great detail that he can recite word-for-word what he has seen and experienced. Despite this great gift, the memories that are most important to him, those of his mother, elude him. 

Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feelings as vast as your own…” (Coates, Between the World and Me)

In the world of the novel, the reader will notice that the word “slave/slavery” appears very infrequently. Instead we have the “Tasked” and the “Quality”. Coates, in his Oprah interview explains how important and impactful the words we use can be. He says that “a thing has happened to someone and the way that society talks about it, they make the thing that’s happened into the person” (Coates). In this novel, slavery is something that was done to the characters but it does not, it can not, define who they are.

Reading the novel transports you, it feels like you are being conducted, moved into a different reality. The world that is constructed feels both familiar and strange at the same time. Magical realism infuses the words in the novel with a kind of power born from immense suffering. Those who have lost loved ones to the cruelty that comes from dehumanizing people, from our brutal past, may understand it best. It’s deeply personal and deeply important for us to hear. So get comfy, grab a bourbon or a cider and settle in for a great and thoughtful read.