Greetings, traveler. It’s Black History Month! During every month of the year, I will be featuring an array of amazing works by Black authors (as all readers and bloggers should) via rec lists and book reviews. Let’s always celebrate the incredible beauty of diverse stories!
Today, we’ll be diving into the breathtaking world of The Deep by Rivers Solomon, a novella inspired by the song of the same name, written by Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes of Clipping (one of my new favorite hip-hop groups. Their album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is so good).
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.
Rep: African, non-binary author and characters; African protagonists, characters, and setting; sapphic and queer protagonist and characters; intersex character
Content Warnings: animal death; grief and trauma; slavery and themes of slavery; death of loved ones; self-harm and injury; attempted suicide; hallucinations; the aftermath of war
tl;dr: Do I recommend this book?
MY RATING: ★★★★★
This is my first five-star rating on this blog! Hooray!
Our mothers were pregnant African women
Thrown overboard while crossing the Atlantic Ocean on slave ships
We were born breathing water as we did in the womb
We built our home on the sea floor
Unaware of the two-legged surface dwellers
Until their world came to destroy ours
With cannons, they searched for oil beneath our cities
Their greed and recklessness forced our uprising
Tonight, we remember.
Traveler, what do you remember?
Perhaps you remember reading your favorite book for the first time: holding its bound pages in one hand or smiling at the glow of your e-reader. You might remember getting your driver’s license in your youth, or meeting with your friends after a long, otherwise forgotten day, or throwing a particularly memorable birthday celebration a few years ago.
But what do you remember? Does heartbreak linger in the vestigial portions of your recollection? Do the shadows of loss encroach upon your heart? Hidden in that bygone joy, you might have felt suffering. You might have known the steady sting of loss. Grief is a hand on your shoulder.
And what if you could see beyond your own constraints? What if you could see the sprawling stretch of the wilderness and fauna before mankind smothered them with its heavy hands? What if you got to see your grandparents when they were children — do you look like them? Does your voice echo their refrains? Do you carry what they brought you?
Memory drags with it unbearable burdens. But how can there be growth without an ache? How can there be a future without a history? The only way to move forward is to acknowledge what came before us.
The Deep explores these topics exquisitely.
With a firm, though tender hand, The Deep guided me through all the creases of its world’s past. Yetu, the story’s protagonist and the Historian of her people, the aquatic wajinru, beings with shimmering scales, a human shape — and a willful blindness towards their traumatic past. Yetu wove the past’s sequence on a loom made from foam and cosmos, bending reality so that it could be easily consumed by her community (and taken in fully by readers).
The Deep enraptured me. I loved how the book used a collective first-person (“we” and “us”) when exploring the contemplation of past Historians. Yetu’s relationship with her community intrigued me.
As a protagonist, Yetu was the perfect conduit for The Deep‘s story’s allegory for generational trauma. Every twist of Yetu’s thoughts — every doubt and fear she held within her — every moment of clarity she stole from the tumult of her surroundings — rattled and entranced me. I learned as she learned; I trembled when she trembled; I wept when she wept.
And that prose. Rivers Solomon is a prophet.
Just For the Heck of It, and Because I Love This Story So Much, Here Are a Few of My Favorite Lines From The Deep
✧ “You’re always wanting answers to why I do the things I do, but when I try to give them, you cannot fathom it. Is this my curse? To be unfathomable?”
✧ “A whale, one of the biggest we’ve ever seen, descends like a sunken ship.”
✧ “History was everything. Yetu knew that. But it wasn’t kind.”
✧ “I know what it’s like to be turned into splinters and fragments.”
✧ “Oblong slivers of cartilage, seared skin, tooth shards — Yetu had learned so much about the past since taking on the History, but she’d learned about the present, too.”
Chef’s kiss, dear traveler.
I finished reading The Deep in the morning, perched atop a wooden chair. After taking in the last line, I balled my hands into fist, shook like a storm, and released a guttural cry so loud that my mother, eating breakfast beside me, looked up in shock, concern, and amusement.
Do you ever receive this floating sensation while you’re reading? It’s as though you were carried by the salt of the ocean — as though you’re being enveloped by the words you see on the page. When you finish a novel’s final chapter, have you ever encountered that full-circle, grieving tranquility — a peace that comes when you’re being held as you sob?
The Deep accomplished all these and more. It’s a narrative that has me shell-shocked, and I am honored to have read it. I will feel this story’s ripples in my spirit for a long, long time.
“What is belonging?” we ask.
She says, “Where loneliness ends.”
Thank you so much for reading my review for The Deep. This is definitely one of my new favorites, and I hope that, should you choose to read the story, it resonates with you as much as it resonated with me. 🌊
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: a list of books to celebrate Lunar New Year with!
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖