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.
A whole chorus of the deep. Wajinru. We are not zoti aleyu. We are more vast and more beauteous than that name implies. We are a song, and we are together.
The Deep is a gorgeous piece of literature mourning the tragic and traumatic history of the African slave trade, as well as celebrating a renewed sense of belonging and togetherness. This novella is crushing and beautiful and emotionally impactful beyond belief for something of its length, and I don’t think it’s possible to truly express how this book has affected me. It showcases the brutality in human history and the pain of remembering the past. But it’s this pain that forms us, that makes us who we are, and reminds us of where we come from, regardless of the color of our skin or the gods we pray to. It’s something to be collectively shared, not just remain a burden for one individual or group to bear. By remembering, we can finally come together as one, heeding the consequences of past actions to create a brighter future.
This story is an interpretation of an interpretation that becomes more grand with each iteration. Drexciya, a techno-electro duo began the mythological tale of death as an escape from oppression, which experimental hip hop group clipping. used as a basis for their 2017 song The Deep. I highly suggest you give this Hugo-nominated song a listen, as it captures this entire saga’s essence to perfection in a stunning way. Rivers Solomon utilizes this song to conceive one of the most poignant and sentimental yarns I have ever read, sending chills down my spine on countless occasions, and bringing me to tears more times than I care to admit to. The Deep transcends methods of media and genre, and this Afrofuturistic Science Fiction/Fantasy novella is one to be revered by all.
Solomon’s characterization is superb, delicately crafting Yetu, a historian of the wajinru (merpeople), who is responsible for holding the rememberings of the past within herself. While she alone must live with the endless torment and loneliness of her ancestors’ memories, her people are free to live their lives in naive bliss, for these memories are not theirs to endure. Being torn from the inside as she begins to lose herself, Yetu seeks peace. This peace, however, will doom not only her people, but the two-legs, her ancient kin, as well. We witness her hurt, her guilt, her strength, her resolve. We watch as she submits to despair, then pulls away from the precipice right before the flame of hope is extinguished. We observe her heart swell with love, and break into a million pieces with loss. Hers is a genuinely remarkable journey, and as a reader, it’s an honor to watch unfurl.
At least with pain there was life, a chance at change and redemption.
The world we’re introduced to is our own, but exquisitely and skillfully suffused with the fantastical. The sea is magical, gifting life to those who would surely perish. The weather reflects the emotions exuded by the creatures seeking solace beneath the waves. There is honor and solidarity between different species, hunter and prey, mother and child. It is when the horrors of men casting pregnant slaves overboard their transport ships, do we see the gentle giants of the sea claim the young as their own, caring for them and protecting them from future heartache. Readers get small glimpses into the past of the wajinru, evolving from zoti aleyu, strange fish, to a whole and powerful chorus of the deep. All things are dazzling and devastating in equal measure, in a world where balance is of crucial importance.
I can sit here all day and continue to prattle on about the grandeur of this book, but I can tell you with the utmost sincerity that nothing I say will give it the justice it deserves. Gorgeous, immersive prose, precious moments of silent reflection, a love that breaks the shackles of the expected, it’s an experience you must undergo yourself to rightly savor. Please do yourself a favor and pick up The Deep; its beautiful complexity and striking message are only overshadowed by its heartrending passion. One of my favorite reads of the year – I cannot recommend it enough.
Note: A huge thank you to Saga Press for an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.