Updated: Dec 17, 2019
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through BookishFirst, and I am providing an honest review voluntarily.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes is a work of art that is haunting, painful, and beautiful all at once. The story is inspired by a hit song from the rap group clipping, which I strongly suggest listening to after reading the book. It really puts things in perspective.
TRIGGER WARNING: This book includes mention of self-harm, suicide attempts, violence, and references to slavery and war.
Yetu is the historian for her people, the wajinru. She alone holds the painful memories of their past, sharing them psychically for everyone to experience once a year in a ceremony called the Remembrance. The wajinru are the water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African women thrown from slave ships when they were in labor. While the women drowned, their offspring lived … and thrived in a sort of utopian society in the deep part of the ocean. Their past is too traumatic to be remembered by all, so they forget them, entrusting only the historian with their memories.
Yetu, however, isn’t strong enough to handle the memories, and she is being destroyed by the weight of the history. She flees to the surface to escape the memories, expectations, and responsibilities. In doing so, she not only learns about herself, but also about the world her people left behind many centuries ago. She learns about her own past, and the future of her people. In order to survive, she and her people will have to reclaim the memories, their identities, and own who they really are.
The world building in the book is incredibly detailed, and I love how information is presented. This book is a perfect example of showing rather than telling. The wajinru remind me strongly of a type of mermaid (as you can see in the cover picture), and there were so many aspects that showed that they were well adapted to underwater life. They had fins, scales, webbing between their fingers, gills, tail fins rather than two legs, and the ability to sense sound and motion through their scales, similar to lateral lines in fish. In addition, they have the ability to communicate in a sort of telepathic way, using electroreceptors to share memories with each other.
I noticed that while certain characters are referred to specifically as male or female, other characters are not referred to by a specific gender. I found that to be interesting, since this is not something I have come across in any books before, and think it is important to see, as this is more inclusive of people who identify as non-binary or gender nonconforming. I’d actually like to see this in more books. The book included a conversation about how mating worked among the wajinru that wasn’t awkward.
Yetu is the major character in the story, and we learn that she is the historian for her people. She was designated so at age 14, but is anxious and has a finicky temperament. Yetu is suffering under the weight of these memories, many of which are painful, although some of them are happy. She feels as though she doesn’t have any identity outside of being the historian. When she escapes to the surface, she is trying to figure out who she is as an individual without all of her responsibilities and memories weighing her down. But what she finds isn’t exactly what she expects. When she tries to get to know someone, she realizes that she doesn’t know how to socialize because she has been so isolated.
Throughout the book, we also hear from other historians through the history of the wajinru. We hear from the first historian, along with the historian prior to Yetu. They each have very different viewpoints that Yetu does. But when Yetu escapes, she gives up these memories, and has only memories of her own life.
This story is fascinating and imaginative. It is a really interesting concept, and I really empathize with Yetu. Her story really sounds like she struggles with depression and has no one to turn to. I love the way that there is no use of the word “I” or “me” in the narration from the historians, but instead they use “we.” Initially, this threw me for a loop, but I eventually got used to it.
This book is an incredible and moving book that touches on the conflict we can have on balancing the needs of the individual against the needs of our family or community. It discusses the topics of family, pain, love, loss, and the history and future of cultural experience. While these issues can be sensitive, it’s all done in a sensitive way, and the books is short but powerful. This book will definitely stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend this one to all readers.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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