Usually, a book is what happens when a writer sits down and puts their ideas into words – and then publishes them. But sometimes, books have more interesting origins. In this case, the band clipping.’s Hugo-nominated work “The Deep” was the inspiration for Solomon’s novella and I have to say, it makes me want to read way more fiction based on music. And of course more books by Rivers Solomon.
by Rivers Solomon
Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes
Published: Saga Press, 2019
Ebook: 166 pages
My rating: 8/10
Opening line: “It was like dreaming,” said Yetu, throat raw.
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.
This is another one of those hard reviews to write. On the one hand, the book synopsis tells you most of what happens within the covers of this book, but on the other hand, it doesn’t even get close to telling you what emotions this story will put you through. The premise is a great fantasy idea: When pregnant slave women were thrown (or jumped) from the ships transporting them, the babies they carried went through some kind of super-evolution and were born as water-dwelling mermaid-like creatures. These creatures then found others like themselves and formed a society. The wajinru, as they are called, don’t have great memories – but on purpose. They choose one person to be their historian, their memory-keeper, the one who remembers where they came from, who they are, why they are here in the deep darkness of the ocean.
Yetu was chosen as historian but to say the job overwhelms her is an understatement. She gets lost in the myriad memories stuck inside her head, she sometimes can’t distinguish reality and the present from what she remembers, from the past. The way Rivers Solomon described Yetu’s feelings was so amazing, I felt like I knew her after only a handful of pages. At the beginning of the book, we don’t even know what exactly those memories are (although we can surmise they are not pleasant, given the wajinru’s origins), but we feel Yetu’s pain nonetheless. When the annual ritual of sharing those memories with the rest of the wajinru arrives, Yetu makes a terrible decision. For a few moments, she is supposed to hand the memories over to the others, so they can remember who they are, and then she should take them back and store them within herself, so the others can go on with their lives. But Yetu isn’t sure she’ll survive another year, even another minute, carrying that weight alone. So she leaves…
And thus starts a journey of finding herself, of learning more about her past than she ever did before, of finding out that even painful memories are worth preserving. Yetu leaves the deep and goes to the surface where she meets some humans. If you think you have a Little Mermaid retelling on your hands, though, think again. Although Yetu does develop a sort of relationship with one of the humans, most of her time is spent thinking about her actions and her people whom she left below. She worries about going back, about staying, about what is right and wrong. The question of whether she should return even if the memories would destroy her is constantly on her mind and it was a strange pleasure to read.
This is a truly beautiful book. Not because the subject matter is beautiful – it’s not. In some chapters, we learn about the first wajinru, how they came to be, we see single memories of slave women, we see dark times and slightly better times. But Yetu’s journey – both physical and emotional – was just such a damn good story. Should she sacrifice her own sanity, her own health for the good of her people? Should one die so many can live? Or are there maybe other solutions to the wajinru’s problem? And is it even important to keep those memories if everyone is much happier when they forget? It’s a tale of identity, of belonging, of remembering where you came from even if it hurts. But it’s also the story of one individual who desperately wants to live and enjoy everything life has to offer. That includes maybe falling in love, learning to live with pain, choosing your own path. I can’t describe what goes on in The Deep in a better, more eloquent way. I can only urge you to pick up this book.
I’m pleased to say that the ending was a thing of utter beauty. I wasn’t sure until the very end whether this story could be resolved in a satisfying way because every choice Yetu took seemed like it had more bad sides than good ones. But Rivers Solomon definitely has a storytelling gift. They created a character that readers can identify with even if they have nothing in common with her. Then they put her through a harrowing story where, granted, not much happens in terms of plot but so much happens under the surface (pun intended) and they round it all up with an ending that made me feel warm and loved and like the part of something bigger. This is a book that wormed its way into my brain and that I’m still thinking about weeks after having finished it. After being so taken with this novella, I can’t wait to pick up Solomon’s full length novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts.
MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent