Everyone loves this book. I was drawn to it because of the hype. It made me curious to see what it’s all about, and I also thought it was pretty cool that the inspiration for it came from a rap song. But although I appreciated what the story does, I didn’t like it as much as everyone else did.
The Deep is a fantasy novella about a group of merpeople called the Wajinru who are actually descendants of African slaves. The protagonist, Yetu, serves as the historian for the Wajinru and is burdened with all the memories of her people’s traumatic experiences. She passes on these memories to other Wajinru in a ceremony called the Remembering, at the end of which she is supposed to take back the memories. But with such a heavy burden gone, Yetu takes the opportunity to escape the heavy responsibility of holding onto such painful history. (Goodreads)
I read this novella in December last year; but as I read, I recalled a quote from an NPR article I’d read earlier in the year in which one of my favorite authors, Marlon James, talked about his African mythology-inspired fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. In the passage that comes to mind, he talks about slavery, origin stories, and the need for myths:
“…And it’s important that we know slavery and we understand it … but if I continue thinking the origin of my story, the origin of the story is colonialism and slavery, then eventually I’m going to feel as if I’m nothing more than a displaced person. So I think that’s one of the things — to actually tap into the original narratives, to tap into this sort of reservoir of stories. I think every society needs its myths, it’s what tells us who we are. So if I come from a people who didn’t have them, I’m going to start searching for them and trying to make some up.”
It’s the last bits of the quote above that I kept remembering as I read The Deep. To me, myths and legends are still being created and told and are still passed on in stories — novels, poems, songs, etc. I think myths are important. They help people make sense of their experiences, to interpret and make sense of their world and situations, and even to pass on their culture and practices. Part of the reason why I like The Deep is because it provides a myth about the African slavery experience.
The myth: The children of pregnant African women who jumped or were thrown overboard slave ships became mermaids. For someone like me who loves fantasy stories and is enthralled by fantastic creatures such as mermaids, such a premise is highly appealing and is another reason why I was eager to read this story. I hardly ever find such stories about people like me or fantasy stories that touch on the experiences of the African diaspora.
The Deep is a fantastic presentation about the trauma of slavery, an experience so horrible that it’s torturous to place the responsibility of remembering it all on one person. The story talks about how such trauma is felt through generations (which, I think, is true in the story and in reality) and about who is responsible for carrying on/maintaining a people’s history — should that responsibility fall on just one person, or should all people of that society be responsible for remembering.
Yetu struggles with this dilemma, wondering if she did right to leave her people with the memories of their horrific experiences. For much of the story she doubts herself and debates this, which greatly annoyed me. I get that she cares for her people and is torn between that care and wanting a moment of respite where she’s not burdened with such memories. But her constant worrying with no action frustrated me. I wanted her to stop worrying and just go find out. But of course, she’s unable to do so.
I think much of my problems with the story stems from my frustration with Yetu. I also didn’t care for the romance that develops or what happens to any of the side characters. Actually, other than the myth about the wajinru and the backstory about the first wajinru, there’s not much else I liked about the story. I didn’t feel sucked into it. In fact, I felt a bit disconnected from the story. I really think it’s because I didn’t like the protagonist and the side characters weren’t fleshed out enough to make me favor them instead. However, I’d still recommend this to others. It is a story worth reading.
Overall: ★★☆☆☆ ½
I gave it a low rating because I didn’t connect with the story and the protagonist was frustrating, but I do recommend the book because it is a decent read and an interesting story about an aspect of the African slavery experience.