• The Water Dancer (Oprah’s Book Club)

  • A Novel
  • By: Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Narrated by: Joe Morton
  • Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (13,800 ratings)

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The Water Dancer (Oprah’s Book Club)

By: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Narrated by: Joe Morton
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Interview: Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Water Dancer Makes A Big Splash

I wanted interesting, complex, thick relationships in the book.
  • The Water Dancer (Oprah’s Book Club)
  • I wanted interesting, complex, thick relationships in the book.

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)

In development as a major motion picture

Adapted by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kamilah Forbes, produced by MGM, Plan B, and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films

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 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

Critic reviews

"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)

Featured Article: Audiobooks Like The Alchemist to Expand Your Horizons

Since it was published in 1988, The Alchemist has remained a universally relatable work about what it means to find yourself and reach enlightenment. Paulo Coelho’s simple but profound writing style leaves listeners captivated—a style only heightened by the impeccable narrative performance of prolific stage and screen actor Jeremy Irons. If you’re one of the countless fans who’ve fallen in love with this title and find yourself wanting more, we’ve got you covered.

Editor's Pick

Eloquent, thoughtful, and brutally honest
"Since writing Between the World and Me—the 2015 National Book Award winner and quite possibly my favorite audiobook of all time—Ta-Nehisi Coates has become a leading figure on news panels and publications because of his eloquence, thoughtfulness, and brutal honesty on race in America. The Water Dancer is Coates’s first published work of fiction and one of the most anticipated releases this fall—and rightfully so. Set in the antebellum era, this work of historical fiction meets magical realism will stick with you long after you’ve finished listening. And there really couldn’t be a better narrator for this story than Joe Morton. If you needed any further evidence to prove that Ta-Nehisi Coates is one the strongest and most important voices out there right now, then here it is."
Aaron S., Audible Editor