The Deep by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 30 January 2020
Page count: 176 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
I’ve been hearing buzz about The Deep for a few months now and the amazing concept captured my interest. I’ve never read a book by Rivers Solomon before and admit I am unfamiliar with the song and artists that inspired and helped work on this book, so I didn’t know what to expect. This novella is an absolutely powerful story of memory, pain, history, and surviving in the face of adversity.
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
I think this book will be marmite for some readers, mostly due to the writing style. While I loved the slow burning, atmospheric, beautiful writing style of The Deep, I’m not sure it will click with every reader. Despite its short length, it’s a book to be read slowly and savoured rather than devoured in an evening. The pacing is a little slow, so if you’re expecting an action-packed book you’ve been warned!
I absolutely fell in love with the wajinru — the descendants of the unborn babies of enslaved African women thrown overboard from slave ships crossing the Atlantic. The pain of their ancestry is too painful for all the wajinru to bear, so the Historian carries the memories of all those who came before. This is a completely brilliant way of exploring the wounds of the past and how a shared history can impact those living in the present. Solomon does a fantastic job of exploring the traumas of slavery across the generations and the book is so heartbreaking.
I really loved the wajinru as a people and Solomon builds out everything from their culture to their physiology incredibly well. In particular, Solomon explores sexuality and gender identity, social norms, familial relationships, and more through the wajinru. The way they handle their cultural identity and history is absolutely brilliant.
Yetu is an interesting character because while she is obviously so incredibly strong, she has been bearing a horrible burden for most of her life. As the Historian for her people, she feels she has lost her own identity under the burden of her people’s shared history. Her actions and reactions to this position are absolutely fascinating and while she may be difficult at times, Yetu is an incredibly sympathetic character and it’s easy to understand why she makes particular decisions in the book.
Overall, The Deep is a powerful, stunningly beautiful novella that is sure to be a favourite of many readers. Solomon does a fantastic job of capturing so many difficult and dark themes while providing a ray of hope for the wajinru people.
CW: slavery, murder
I am not an OwnVoices reviewer for this book, so I wanted to highlight some reviews from black reviewers for a different perspective:
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