The Deep

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

“Who each of them was mattered as much as who all of them were together.”

Yetu is wajinru, a people descended from pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave traders. Living an idyllic, utopian life protected by the sea, the wajinru have for centuries guarded the knowledge of their traumatic past in a way that protects the majority: by appointing a Historian, one who holds all the memories of their History with the exception of the yearly Remembrance ceremony, where all wajinru come together for a few days to share this knowledge. But the price of their “freedom” from this knowledge the rest of the year is the mental health and life of the Historian. And Yetu, the currently appointed one, knows that she cannot last much longer in this role. The pain of holding the knowledge alone is too much for her. She must decide whether to allow herself the peace of mind that was stolen from her or sacrifice herself for the whole of her people. But in her journey to answer that question, she and the wajinru realize that there may be another path, one in which they can all reclaim their past and own who they are.

For such a slim little book, this novella holds multitudes. Before I get into the deeper things (ummm, pun intended?) I want to mention a few things. One is the writing. It’s a very different style of book from Solomon’s first, but I have to say I thought the polish on the writing definitely makes it clear that it’s not their first. There were some plot points and descriptions that left me a little lost in Unkindness (though I got through it fine with a little willing suspension of disbelief), and while this didn’t have quite the same scope, so it may be an apples and oranges comparison, I didn’t have that issue here. Everything, from the plot to the character development to the mechanisms of memory passing and communication, felt polished and smooth. The writing itself had a flow and rhythm that fit the philosophical nature of the topics it covered, complemented with a sparse-ness and to the point delivery that fit the harsh realities of those same topics. Also, I want to point out the idea of this novella – the general concept of pregnant slave women who were thrown overboard into the sea whose children were born from their wombs and into an ocean that welcomed them and showed them how to breath underwater, whose creatures both killed and protected them, and where their discarded lives created a home and community where they were safe and sheltered – it’s incredible. And I read the afterward, I know that it was a combination of efforts, a idea that began before Solomon came to it and will continue to grow after this novella, but I am a book person, a reading person, and this is the format where the idea was most likely to sink its claws into me. And oh my goodness, sink them it did. I just cannot get over it – how beautiful and hopeful it is, despite the horror and tragedy from which it was born. As I said, incredible.

And now, my attempt to address and review the focal topic of this little book: the potent cumulative, intergenerational effects of trauma. The philosophical explorations of the original wajinru and their decision to protect the whole from the trauma of the past by assigning the responsibility of remembering it to a single entity in juxtaposition with Yetu’s personal journey to find out who she is for herself, separate from the memories of the past, are extraordinary. There is equal time given to the benefits and potential pitfalls of all sides of remembering history: from the way the pain of remembering everything can overwhelm you (as Yetu feels) to the equally painful reality of losing all of the past, having no knowledge of where you came from (as Oori, the confidant Yetu meets while struggling with escaping her role/people or swimming back to it, feels). There is pain in remembering, but there is also power. There are terrible memories, visceral in their horror, but there is also hope and goodness. Both are important perspectives, and the all or nothing options forced upon Yetu and Oori at both extremes are heart-breaking. And then Solomon brings it all together in the end with a gorgeous message about the importance of community in History and Remembrance, of sharing the burden (because our past is part of who we are, and should be honored, but also does not have to fully define us), and of the possibility for collective healing and a more balanced future.

If there was ever a doubt that fairy tales or fantasy are a useful way to address complicated and abstract reality-based topics in truly beneficial ways, The Deep is here to disabuse you of said doubt. This is a such a striking novella in so many ways, from the creativity of its story to the intensity and cutting commentary of its message. Its short length belies the strength in its pages. There is no way my words could do justice to what Solomon has crafted. If there is open communication and real healing to be found in words, Solomon is well along the path to finding it, to making it. Magnificent.

I marked so many quotes and passages. Enjoy these:

“One can only go for so long without asking, who am I? Where do I come from? What does all this mean?”

“She didn’t mean to be so cruel, but what else was she to do with all the violence inside of her?”

“Forgetting was not the same as healing.”

“Remember how deep we go.”

“Without your history, you are empty.”

“‘What is belonging?’ we ask. She says, ‘Where loneliness ends.’”

“We have absorbed many lifetimes of pain, but it is no matter compared to the good.”

“But connection came with responsibility. Duty choked independence and freedom.”

“If the past is full of bad things, if a people is defined by the terror done to them, its good for it to go, don’t you think?”

“Doesn’t it hurt not to know who you are?”

“‘But your whole history. Your ancestry. That’s who you are.’ […] ‘No. I am who I am now. Before, I was no one. When you’re everyone in the past, and when you’re for everyone in the present, you’re no one. Nobody. You don’t exist.”

“…if freedom only brought loneliness, emptiness, what was that point? Nothingness was a fate worse than pain. […] At least with pain there was life, a chance at change and redemption.”

“Our shared fury makes us stronger. We continue to rise.”
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Thanks netgalley for this ARC, in exchange for an honest review.  Whoa, it’s been awhile since I was so moved by such a short read.  Powerful writing, amazing world building.  I’m so glad I got a copy for our library.  I was even more impressed by the audiobook.  Simply outstanding.
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“She had no wish to transform trauma to performance, to parade what she’d come to think of as her own tragedies for entertainment.”

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

First things first, I keep waffling between 3.5 and 4 stars for this book. I don’t tend to give out half stars and I usually round up on Goodreads, so I went with four stars. And yet… I don’t know if it quite reaches a four. I feel like this is because my feelings about this book are very much confused.

This is the story of the wajinru, a race of ocean-dwelling people who are the descendants of pregnant slave women who were tossed overboard during the journey across the Atlantic. Our main character is Yetu, who is the current Historian for the wajinru. It is the Historian’s job to carry all the memories of the wajinru’s past so that everyone doesn’t have to suffer under the weight of their tragic beginnings. It’s a position of importance, but it is taking a toll on Yetu. When the time of year comes where Yetu can shed the memories to share them with her people, she takes the opportunity to swim as far away as she can. On her journey, she learns more about her past and how to reclaim her people’s history to ensure their future.

I will say that I enjoyed reading this novella. The writing was evocative and raw, bringing up emotions that I was not prepared for. It speaks to tragedy and how it can define a whole community. But it also speaks to how we shouldn’t let tragedy be our only defining factor. There is a lot of back and forth in this book. You can see how carrying the wajinru history is destroying Yetu and you can understand why she would want to be rid of it. But you can also see how lost a person can become without a sense of where they come from. There’s a lot to unpack with this book.

And… honestly… I think that might be my issue with this book. Well, not the fact that there’s a lot to unpack, but the fact that there’s a lot to unpack in only 166 pages! I felt like the topics in this narrative would have benefited from a more substantial book. Though The Deep is a wonderfully written story, it felt almost superficial. I personally just wish it would have been longer!

Final thoughts: This was a beautifully crafted novella that tackles some very intense subjects. The writing is powerful but the length left me feeling like something was missing. I wanted more!
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In this Sunday’s Sunday Post I mentioned that the recently announced list of 2019 Nebula Awards Finalists had, let’s call it informed, this week’s reviews. Particularly as the titles that make the Nebula list are generally eligible for the Hugo Awards, and the nominations for that are due in three weeks.

So we come to The Deep, a novella that was on multiple “best of” lists at the end of the year and looks to pick up a few more kudos by the time the book world has wrung the last of the juice out of 2019.

The Deep was nothing like what I expected. It is as strange and marvelous as the wide, deep ocean that serves as its setting, It’s as intimate as one singular being’s pain, and as vast as the broad sweep of history.

From one perspective, it is the story of Yetu, the historian of her underwater-dwelling people. From another, it is a reclamation of the holocaust of the African-American experience, that of the deaths and depredations of the slave trade. From a third perspective, it is a parable about the greedy rapine of the seas – and of the land – by those who only see the Earth as a resource to be exploited until it is sucked dry.

As is fitting for a story with so many creators, the narrative is braided so that all of those perspectives bleed into one single story – and yet have arteries that reach into all its corners.

However we come to The Deep, the story is told through the eyes of one particular wajinru, the relatively young Yetu. While Yetu is young, she feels old, at least from her own perspective. Old, worn and tired.

Her people are conditioned to forget all the traumas of their species’ creation and existence. But, as the saying has so often been paraphrased, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It is Yetu’s job, her duty, to remember her people’s past in all of its bloody, grief-stricken and traumatic detail, so that her people can live joyously in the “now”. Once each year, the wajinru gather so that the historian can transmit the entire “Remembrance” to all the people, so that they can hold onto just enough of who they came from to continue as a species.

But at the end of the gathering, Yetu has to take all those memories, centuries of memories, back into herself, burdening herself with the weight of all that history, while unburdening everyone else.

It’s a weight that is killing her, as she loses herself in the pain of the all-too-vivid past and forgets herself in the here and now that is the life of her people. Until it breaks her.

Yetu runs away, leaving her people behind, leaving them lost in those deep memories that she has learned to bear, however badly, and goes off to find herself. To figure out if she even has a self without her burden and her duty.

While Yetu heals, she learns to reconnect with the world, even as her people, roiling under the weight of her burden, nearly destroy it.

Escape Rating A: This story has been presented – and marketed – as fantasy/historical fantasy, and that’s the angle that initially reached out to me as a reader. The Nebulas are awards for science fiction and fantasy, so the voters for that award – the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – clearly viewed it through that lens as well.

And I’m beginning with that as kind of a distancing mechanism, because this story reached out to me in so many different ways that I’m having a difficult time articulating it.

Yetu’s story as an individual is the most accessible part of the story. She is the lens through which we view her people and their world. Seeing the world through her eyes allows us to view her people as people and not creatures, because the articulation of her thoughts is human enough to allow us to identify with her. While her society’s structure – that she has to remember so that everyone else is allowed to forget – is alien, her difficulties with her portion of that dichotomy resonate with us – even as we wonder if that structure isn’t a double-edged blade aimed at her people’s ability to grow, change and ultimately survive.

Her ability to peer back into the past – to actually live the memories that she holds inside her, allows the reader to see the tragedy that gave birth to her people. That the wajinru, capable of breathing both water and air, were born water-breathing from the bodies of pregnant slave women who were thrown off the slave ships because their pregnancies made them too troublesome, or too ill to survive the horrific conditions they were subjected to.

It’s that history that grounds the story in the past, and reclaims that past as it births an entire species out of that tragedy.

At the same time, the wajinru are also a people of the here and now, and they are under threat by the land-dwelling two-legs who have raped the sea for its abundant life, and now want to suck the resources out of its depths. In order to understand the need to fight back, the wajinru will have to remember their past so that they can protect their future.

And in that, Yetu’s “rebellion” provides a renewal both for herself and her people, giving the story a hopeful, hoped for, and beautiful ending.
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I was very excited for this book, but it didn't live up to that excitement. Ultimately, the concept was more interesting than this execution.
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This book is wrenching and beautiful. It has haunted me since I finished it, and the visual and emotional descriptions wound into my heart and reverberate often. However, the subject matter does not mirror my history, so I won't speak to the story-telling or the mood of the novel other than to say that the agony is apparent. The fantasy elements were employed to perfectly encapsulate and mythologize a generational memory that has changed the way that I think about generational trauma and the way it might be written into fiction. I look forward to reading more of Rivers Solomon in the future.
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Breathtakingly beautiful story of the millions of enslaved Africans who were transported to the America's in during the 16-19th centuries and the lives lost when 1.8 million were tossed overboard.
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This novella has an intriguing premise but I just didn’t connect with the writing style. I could never quite picture the setting or understand the character relationships. Disappointing because I really wanted to enjoy this one
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I was very interested in the premise. However, I DNF I found it to be very slow. I will try to pick it back up at a later date. I have recommended to others that would enjoy something like this.
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Having read Rivers Solomon’s previous book, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and found it to be great on concept and character work but rather wanting for plot, I was very curious about this novella. It’s also worth noting that it was inspired by a song, which was itself inspired by other music and concepts (all of which is explained in the Afterword).

Once again, the concept of The Deep is really great. But it belongs to Solomon only in the sense that it belongs to everybody: the concept is being treated like a collective idea upon which any author or artist can riff!

Beyond that, the characters and the world-building are left intentionally vague. It all hinges on the reader's emotional responses. So if that doesn't work for you, you won't gel with this book. The plot, such as it is, feels like enough to sustain a short story rather than a novella of this length. I was really bored for the first half; I enjoyed the second half more because actual things start happening. All the while I was reading, I had a sense that I was doing homework, but kind of in a good way: it made me think. Actually, this would be an excellent book to assign in High School. Not all teens would be into it, but at least some would have an emotional response and they'd all be forced to think about the African slave trade, and the emotional scars of centuries of racism. Which is what this novella centered on "remembrances" is really all about.
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This was an interesting read. Not my usual fare, but I love a good mermaid/ siren story. This was strange, sad, lyrical, and definitely unique in the idea of the story and the telling of it.
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Mermaids and generational tales. An original greatly detailed novel with strong characters. History tried to stop their stories but life finds a way through to those that want to hear.
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Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher on Netgalley. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: The Deep

Author: Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes

Book Series: Standalone

Rating: 4.5/5

Diversity: LGBT friendly! Main ff romance, mm side romance, intersex, gender fluidity, they/them pronouns! Everyone in this book is Black! 

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Genre: Fantasy

Recommended Age: 17+ (slavery, death, violence, suicide attempt TW, suicide mentions TW, remembering)

Publisher: Saga Press

Pages: 176

Amazon Link

Synopsis: 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.

Review: This book is super unique! I loved how the book was told and I love the premise of this book. It’s a great read and I loved how LGBT friendly this book was! The writing is amazing and it really draws emotions out of you.

However, I did feel like the world building could have been better and that the pacing was very slow. Not necessarily bad things, just things not for me.

Verdict: Definitely recommend this read!
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The Deep by Rivers Solomon, 166 pages.
Saga Press (Simon & Schuster), 2019. $20.
Language: PG (3 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13
Twenty years ago, at age fourteen, Yetu was chosen to be Historian for the wajinru people. She is the only one who has to bear the burden of remembering the atrocities of the past, allowing everyone else to simply enjoy the present, but the past is weighing Yetu down as it steals her future. If something doesn’t change soon, Yetu is sure the past will kill her.
I found this book to be more about providing food for thought than telling a story for enjoyment. As an exploration of the importance of history and of what makes a people, it’s a good book, but, as a story, it’s slow. I started losing interest at about chapter four, finding only a few more scenes between there and the end that caught my attention because they contributed to my pondering the ideas Solomon proposed. The mature content is for discussion of genitals and sex; the violence rating is for brutality, attempted suicide, and war.
Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen
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I'm not really sure how to describe The Deep. This book is like someone took some of the better instincts of Erin Morgenstern and crossed them with the worst elements of To Kill a Kingdom. You can see how it could have been good, and then it wasn't.

Picture this, pregnant women who are thrown overboard into the sea during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade whose unborn babies survive, get raised by whales and start an entire society in the deep ocean. THIS WAS COOL. but it does come with both negatives and positives.

On the plus side, the author made a real effort to give the characters some dimensions. Yeah, there were definitely some cliche's, but heroes get to have flaws and the villains aren't one-dimensional idiots. It's a solid and enjoyable story. The plot is engaging and it certainly isn't cookie-cutter fantasy by the numbers. The pacing was for the most part good, although the ending was a bit rushed but this is understandable given how much of the book’s themes are based on the ideas of memory and forgetting, so we have some instances of repetition and the narrative bouncing back and forth and sometimes circling back.
Any way you look at it, The Deep is one dark and gloomy book. And I think for me, that was part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly don’t mind at all when my stories are grim and dreary, but still, I need to know why I care. The issue with The Deep is that the author has so successfully painted this world that I really couldn’t have given two hoots about the surrounding politics..

The book is short and the pages turned quickly on a need to know desire. Admittedly, I was a bit confused at the end. I was not entirely sure what happened but I still enjoyed it.
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Yetu is the historian, the memory holder, for her people who are the water dwelling descendants of the pregnant African slaves thrown overboard. But the burden of holding memories is too much. Yetu knows that if she continues to hold on to them she will  be destroyed. 

This is Solomon's second book and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I was so excited (and grateful) when I received a digital copy. I even read it early - and then forgot to post my review in time. This was a pretty powerful story, and it is short (about novella length). It's about retaining who you are even in the midst of your people and the role . It's about reconciling the past with the present, love and relationships. It's about so much. With it being so short you would think that there would be something lacking. But this was a well crafted world with fleshed out characters. I did want more, not because the story was incomplete but because I'm greedy.
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The Deep was a wholly original, beautifully told, historically nuanced, fantastic work of speculative fiction. I loved it.

This book was dark, insightful, and told as if it were an old fairy tale, but one that isn't afraid to face the darkest of humanity. I've never read anything quite like it and I'm so worried that I won't again, I really enjoyed this wild tale. In the newest age of mermaids, The Deep takes an angle that no one else has taken before and weaves into a powerful story of culture, magic, beauty and what it means to be free. Full review to come.
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An imaginative read with creative world building.  I've never read anything with a premise quite like it!  The descriptions are beautiful, with a fairy-tale like feeling, even though the basis is horrific speculative fiction with historical context.
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Yetu is the worst historian her people have ever seen. Not that they can remember much, as she holds their memories to them except for the once-a-year Remembrance, when she shares the memories of her people to them. But this year is different. This year, Yetu cannot survive another Remembrance. She won't. This year, she's going to give her people their history back.

This was an excellently thought-out novella highlighting one of the darker parts of history—the slave trade.

And the even darker parts of slavery—the shipping of African people to the Americas. When an enslaved person became too "cumbersome," they were thrown overboard into the Atlantic. The old, infirm, sick and pregnant were cast into the waters to die horrible, drowning deaths, and Solomon has reimagined their deaths into a life, where the children of drowned pregnant women became mermaids.

The history is grim, but the forgetting—and the forcing of memory onto one person who relives that history over and over and over—prevents true healing and overcoming. Instead, the wajinru, the mermaid people of the drowned, live happy lives of oblivion. There's an analogy there, but I'm too dense to tease it out right now.

I did like Yetu, who was an autistic-seeming mermaid, where she felt everything too much and became overwhelmed and overcome by the memories and the sensations of the ocean. And was also possibly demi-sexual (along with Oori), which was fantastic queer rep!

Anywho, I did like this, but ultimately I wanted more of the relationship with the humans and life on the surface. The story is set 60o years after the start of the slave trade, putting the timeline into our almost future, and apparently there were the Tide Wars (or something like that) fought between surface-dwellers and the wajinru, but this future history was hazy at best.

It's definitely an interesting read, although I did also want more hints of climate change in this near-future and how it affected the wajinru and their forgetful existence. And how it affected the humans on land (and the constant plastic?).

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
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Pregnant African slave women had been thrown overboard during the slave trade, and their descendants survive on at the bottom of the ocean. Yeti, always sensitive and anxious, is the Historian of her people. She carries the memories of all the generations, allowing the rest of her people to live in the day to day happily. Once a year she shares the memories of the past with them, but it's been taking a toll on her psyche and destroying her. This year, she seeks to escape this responsibility, finding the world that had been left behind.

This is a tale that speaks on many different levels, and one that I feel I would get more out of if I knew more about African cultures. There are still plenty of themes to delve into, primarily about identity. Who is Yeti if she leaves her people and wanders on her own? Who is she without the weight of hundreds of years of memories? Can she truly be happy if alone? What is identity without memory? This is especially a question of trauma, because Yeti is anxious to start with, sensitive to the sounds and pressures around her, and it worsens when she holds her peoples' collective trauma. It isolates her further because no one can understand her despair, and the urging to just be happy only makes her feel that much more alone. The connections she does eventually make are with those who understand trauma because they carry it as well.

This novella written by Rivers Solomon is based on an EDM concept album by Drexciya, then a song by the group Clipping, who are the other listed authors. This explains the almost melodic and rhythmic way the story is told, with memory bleeding into the present. The shifting I-you-we points of view show how enmeshed the past and present can be with the memories in this novel, and it's only by fully embracing the past for what it was, the terrible and horrible bits as well as the pretty and fun parts, that all of the people can move on. That's a poignant lesson to learn, and made me feel a little disappointed at the end because there's so much more that could be part of the story! But if anything, it matches that energy of a song. The hopeful note at the end promises more to come, but the characters will all have to earn it for themselves.
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