Genre: Speculative Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes!
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes!
POC Main Character: Yes!
Bechdel Test: Pass
Summary: Yetu holds all the memories of her people, those that live deep beneath the ocean. All the trauma of their shared history exists in her, something she shares only at certain times and for certain periods. She is known as their historian. But Yetu feels captive by these memories and is forced to relive horror after horror. She devises a plan to rid herself of these rememberings. In the process, she will come to understand who she is and what her place is amongst her people.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
A little deep about The Deep! It’s only my second review and I’m already here with the puns. Welcome aboard, folks, this is the craft you’ve chosen. Sorry, no refunds at this time.
Here is what I knew about The Deep prior to sitting down to read it: it’s about black merfolx, written in part by one of my favorite musically talented celebrities (Daveed Diggs is so much more than Jefferson and you should all listen to clipping.), and that it’s on a lot of lists for best Speculative Fiction of 2019. So naturally I had to pick it up. I knew instantly that it deserved every single mention it got for Top Books of 2019.
Originally written as a song by clipping. with the same title, The Deep offers readers a lot to swim through. Without giving too much away, we discover over the course of the book that the merfolx are descendants of black women on slave ships. We uncover the two-legged creatures who dwell above sea that began a war with Yetu’s people over their love of oil. We see how gender works for Yetu and her people and what sexuality and love means to them. All of these themes could and should be explored in detail, and reading the book is the best way to do that.
While all those topics could fill this review, I’d like to focus on the way this history defines Yetu and the others in this novel. Yetu is one of a long line of merfolx, the zoti aleyu, who carry all the memories of her people’s past. Once a year, she shares these rememberings with her people. But at the end of each remembering, Yetu takes the past back and her people forget again. But eventually, the trauma of holding onto the past proves too much and she leaves her people to be trapped in these memories in order to find her own place.
As the book goes on, we learn more and more of these memories. We understand why they would be too painful for poor Yetu to hold onto all on her own. But soon enough she understands that these memories are a part of her. They are a part of her people. She returns to them to help them navigate these memories and make them into something useful.
The past, Solomon tells us, is vital. We need to remember the past terrors our mothers went through in order to see our place in the world fully. And while it may be tempting to try and run from those memories, or force others to carry them so we cannot, we are ultimately responsible for ourselves. We can let the past drown us, or we can learn to swim. If we drown, the enemy wins. When we swim, we become stronger than they ever feared.
I am not black, so the story of the slave ships is not mine. I am Jewish, however, and I know firsthand the power of memory and sharing the past with our people. There is so much strength in the shared remembering of the Holocaust. We tell the story, and we make sure our people know it. We make sure our people know the signs so that when or if we see the pattern again, we are equipped to stop it. But we also tell the story so that we understand the need to live as truly and as deeply as we can. I am not implying the the two things (the Holocaust and slavery) are the same thing, only that I see a shared need for remembering the past as Yetu and the zoti aleyu do.
The Deep says to remember that the past is not as far behind us as we would like to believe. The sins of slavery have left deep scars, even as deep as the ocean, Solomon seems to say. Do not forget what was done, but do not drown in it. Do not forget your mothers, how they bled and died for you. Do not forget your grandmothers, how they fought and cried for you. Swim and gain strength from your community. It is the only way to learn to breathe.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Deep? Leave a comment telling me your favorite flashback sequence. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.