I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.
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 was one of the best and most unique novellas I’ve ever read.
I went in without knowing a single thing except what the book cover might tell you, so I was launched into this world and immediately, ahem, drowned in it. It was not always easy to follow at the very beginning, but I soon became extremely invested in the world, and later about the main character too.
There’s a reason for this delay, why you first get intrigued and want to know more about why things in this society work the way they do, and only later truly start caring about Yetu. Yetu is the historian of her society, meaning that she carries all the burden of a tragic and violent history while the rest of her species live their lives free of it, but she often loses herself in this history.
Only later, after the yearly ceremony where Yetu gets to share the history with the rest of her group, for only a few days, can we see Yetu free of her burden, and it’s not a wonder that her character might read a little generic at first. She doesn’t really know herself, was too young to really know herself when the full weight of their history was reversed on her.
It was then so satisfying to watch her regain her own identity, take decisions for herself, and reflect on what history means for the individual and for the community, and find out more about her origin while developing a beautiful romance with a human woman.
This is a tale that’s more about a community than about the main character, but it was still so good to see Yetu’s development while raising questions that are relevant to so many people, especially those who have had their roots and history erased from the collective memory. This is a story for those people especially, and as for everyone else who, like me, is white and knows her country’s and her hometown’s history, we just need to absorb the true meaning of this and reflect upon it.
I haven’t seen many reviews mention this, but let me be absolutely clear: this is also as queer as it gets (main f/f romance; m/m side romance; every water dweller is intersex and decides their own gender(s) or no gender at all; there is a human side character who uses they/them pronouns), and everyone is Black (both the water dwellers, who descend from pregnant African slaves, and the humans).
I’m not sure how the book itself would read, but the audiobook was really good and the writing came across flowing well, so I would definitely recommend this format if you’re into listening to books.
TWs: slavery, violence, suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts