Title: The Deep
Author: Rivers Solomon (with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication date: November 5, 2019
Length: 176 pages
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.
Reading The Deep is little reminiscent of an Octavia Butler novel, where the reader is immersed in a strange new world with creatures never seen before and a culture that is both alien and familiar.
The wajinru are sea people, breathing through the water, able to live in the deepest depths, fierce predators yet also sentient beings with intricately built communities and families. And yet, the peace of the wajinru is a facade, as they’re only able to enjoy their lives by being ignorant of their people’s horrifying past.
Only the Historian remembers, and because she remembers, she suffers. Yetu is this generation’s Historian, and the memories are literally killing her. She has no space for herself, being so completely filled with her people’s memories of pain and suffering. Her entire body is like one exposed nerve, and each sound and ripple of sea current cuts at her. Once a year, she is able to unburden herself through the ritual of Remembrance, when she shares the history with the people so that they remember for a brief time and know once again who they are. But after the ritual, it’s Yetu’s responsibility to take back the memories and bear them in solitude once more.
The story of The Deep has a unique origin, having started as a musical creation by James Stinson and Gerald Donald which was then reimagined and reinvented by the group clipping. (Daveed Diggs et al), which further developed the mythology of the wajinru and turned it into something else. Here, author River Solomons takes the story further, from music into a novella.
The Deep‘s musical origin shows in the richness and cadences of the language. It’s odd and different and new, and the wajinru themselves, while similar to what we think of as mermaids, are really something new too.
Here’s the clipping. version of The Deep:
This slim book is hypnotic and lovely and sad, and really should be experienced.