The jungle sparkles with light from fires but there is no singing, no celebration, only screams as men and dogs attack those who flee. You lope and struggle to make it to the underbrush, but your belly is full and your hips hurt. You are weak from months of nausea and they close on you quickly.
Ferried to a ship and thrown into the cargo hold, your scream joins a chorus of terror: your water has broken.
You try to be quiet, to hold your tongue, but the contractions are intense and you wail. That is when they come for you and laugh as they show you the sunrise. The fins of sharks break the surface, trailing white lines in the undulating, buttery colors of the sea.
So many slaves were thrown overboard during the transatlantic slave trade that sharks changed their migratory patterns to follow the ships. This historical background is the foundation of Rivers Solomons’ novel, The Deep. Some of the women thrown overboard were pregnant, but rather than simply drowning and being devoured by the endless blue, they gave birth to something new, transformed by a benevolent, life-giving ocean into Wajinru, mermaids, which went on to build an underwater utopia.
The novel follows Yetu, the wajinru historian, who holds so many memories for the wajinru, who live free of the weight of history, that it is nearly impossible for Yetu to stay present. Determined to find herself and leave her painful history behind, she flees the remembering ceremony, leaving the other wajinru to experience the memories unaided, and finds herself stranded in a tidal pool with a two-legs named Oori, the last of her kind who, unlike Yetu, honors her dead ancestors. Together, they form a tentative friendship and learn to deal with their harrowing pasts while still moving forward into the future. Meanwhile, the wajinru Yetu left with the remembering churn the waters offshore, threatening to use their dominion over the seas to destroy mankind and forcing Yetu to make a difficult choice: return to the wajinru and take up the yolk of history, losing herself forever, or move forward, pretending the past never happened.
The novel is born of concern for those with transgenerational trauma: how do you remember violence without becoming vengeful? How do you live your life without being retraumatized everyday? While it is important to never forget atrocities, they are simply too blinding for any one person to be the sole custodian of history.
This novel’s brilliant premise alone is enough to make it a must read, but I found its poetic language, and fully developed metaphors bordering on allegory, to have a mesmerizing effect as beautiful as a rolling sea.
In these times of division, we can find some common bonds by taking the time to listen to each other’s histories. To learn each other’s stories. To honor their trauma, and hear their calls for healing.
We must join them in The Deep.
Categories: Book Reviews