“What is belonging?” we ask. She says, “Where loneliness ends.”The deep by rivers solomon
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. Inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The Deep is vividly original and uniquely affecting.
This book went beyond anything I expected. While its premise is incredibly compelling, the story itself goes way beyond.
The Deep is based on a song by Clipping, the rap group consisting of William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes, and Daveed Diggs. It tells a unique story of a water-dwelling people, known as wajinru. They are not typical mermaids, they are the descendants of pregnant victims of the African slave trade who were thrown overboard on their journey across the Atlantic. In this book we mainly follow along Yetu, who has been entrusted with the job of a historian. Since wajinru’s history is too painful for them all to carry they decide to appoint one member of their species to carry those memories for them, that way their story isn’t lost. Every year they hold a ceremony called Remembrance where the historian delivers all their history to the rest of their people, allowing them to process it all and be reminded of all they have been through.
We are guided by Yetu in this story and her perspective is so special, constantly shifting between memories and keeping us immersed in her people’s history. It felt like going through one of the rememberings alongside Yetu, like we get to see everything happening right in front of our eyes. We relieve their history with her. And we also get to feel the impact this has on her. This is one of my favorite aspects of the book. To get to be that immersed and visit many different points in time keeps a pace to the story that had me at the edge of my seat.
Because of the time she has spent as a historian, Yetu doesn’t feel like she was ever able to build her own identity. She feels like she is constantly torn between what the rest of the wajinru needs her to be, and who she could really be if she didn’t carry the weight of their entire history on her shoulders.
When I first read the synopsis for the book I was expecting Yetu, and her struggles and desires, to be the main focus of the story. But it goes WAY BEYOND that. The story evolves to a much bigger theme: memory and history. And even deeper: how we share those histories with each other, and how they end up shaping us more than we realise.
Through Yetu’s experiences, we get immersed in the theme of memories. At first, Yetu is understandably burdened by it. Imagine being the only person who has to remember all that has happened to your people and has to constantly relive it, being consumed right to the point where you can’t even recall who you are beyond those memories. They become a monumental part of who you are and we see, through Yetu’s eyes, that she can’t even distinguish what her own memories are. And we see the toll it takes on her, which leads her to run away.
From there we see her living without those memories and being allowed for the first time in what feels like forever to figure things out by herself. We get to see the impact it has on her personality and how she takes that time to try and figure out for herself who she truly is. But that’s when she also realizes the important part that history, shared history, has in a person. How it shapes us all. Gives us identity. How important your descendancy is.
And that’s what really did it for me. One of the many things I love about stories is that they present a new perspective on something or lead me to thoughts and questions that I didn’t even consider or thought much about. This gem of a book did that to me. It taught me such a big lesson on how we are a combination of our very own identities but also our histories. How we are able to create connections with anyone and everyone because of those. That even if we are never able to know and truly understand the pain and anger that some people have gone through we can still come together and love each other.
I also loved the hint of f/f romance and the fact that the wajinru are all intersex and choose their own genre, if any.
The Deep is a relatively short book (I found myself wishing for more) and yet Rivers Solomon manages to say more on those pages than many novels I’ve read.