Book Review: The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, opens with a quote from Fredrick Douglass: “My part has been to tell the story of the slave. The story of the master never wanted for narrators.” Coates’s book does just that. He makes the life of a slave something we can feel in our bones, an important task in a period where the slogan “Make America Great Again” paints a falsely rosy picture of U.S. history.

The book also shows what it was like to be someone who fought against the system of slavery. Coates’s characters organize to free themselves and their loved ones. In the process they find that to truly be free they have to end slavery itself. In a society where a tiny minority exploits the vast majority, the characters fight for a different future in the face of overwhelming, violent pressures to accept the status quo. For many of us living in the exploitative and unequal system of capitalism, it can be difficult to believe that a different future is possible. This story can help remind us that the struggles we engage in now are capable of changing history.