Shallow waters A novel

Anita Kopacz

Book - 2021

Cast into mid-1800s America, Yemaya, a deity in the religion of Africa's Yoruba people, as she grows into her powers, must confront the greatest evils of this era while searching for the man who sacrificed his own freedom for the chance at hers.

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Historical fiction
New York, NY : Black Privilege Publishing, Atria 2021.
Main Author
Anita Kopacz (author)
First Black Privilege Publishing/Atria Books hardcover edition
Physical Description
xiv, 205 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Kopacz has interwoven figures from the Yoruba pantheon of deities and the stark realities of slavery in the mid-1800s in a debut novel that celebrates roots and traditions even as it grapples with all that was stripped away from those who were enslaved. Young Yemaya is a creature of the ocean who can take human form and follow her captured love, Obatala, all the way from Africa to America. Their mysterious and tenuous connection is her motivation as she endures the tortures of slavery, the hopes and dangers of the Underground Railroad, and encounters with supportive people from different backgrounds. Yemaya's capacity for love, her ability to heal others and inspire faith and redemptive energy, is a creative realigning of the attributes of goddesses with human nature. Kopacz's commitment to a vision of healing even while detailing tragedies shapes this tale's themes of redemption and the universal soul. Most remarkable is Kopacz's abilty to maintain a brisk narrative pace as she delves into the weighty issues and complex experiences that shaped Yemaya's quest.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Kopacz's stirring debut novel (after Finding Your Way: Alphabetical Keys to the Divine) features an Orïsha, a Yoruba deity of the sea, who was "ripped from the water" and became a young Black woman engulfed in the violent maelstrom of 1849 America. Yemaya witnesses a tribe of fisherman along with Obatala, the father of all Orïshas, being abducted by slave traders, and is "overcome by the sheer terror and hopelessness," before being captured herself. Kopacz then describes the horrors Yemaya witnesses on a series of ships across the Atlantic and along trade routes in the U.S., where her captors eventually place her in a tent somewhere on land. She escapes, and Richard Dillingham, a white Quaker, comes to her aid and tells her about the Underground Railroad. Yemaya then goes on a quest to find Obatala while continuing to navigate a strange world where magic is real (after she breaks her ankle, she heals it by rubbing mucas on it into a cast) and cruelty abounds. All of these events are framed by Yemaya's confusion at her new reality: "What is slavery? Is a Negro another word for an African?" she wonders. It's a riveting and heartbreaking story strengthened by Kopacz's superb ability to create a sense of place. Fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Water Dancer will want to take a look. (Aug.)

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Prologue PROLOGUE A long grunt escapes my lips. My body is numb. I cough up the last gulp of water I had taken in and held before I passed out. As I sluggishly blink my eyes, one thought repeats in my mind: I have to break through as soon as possible. I didn't need to breathe during the transformation, but now my need for air is urgent. My nerves awaken from the inside out. I can feel the change in my body. Everything is different. My eyes are dry. I blink a few more times in the darkness, working to clear away the crust that has formed over my lashes. Slowly I become aware of a dim light penetrating the shell of my cocoon. The sun's rays reveal a complex webbing within the shell's walls, strong enough to withstand the ocean's waves. My body stirs, and I can feel the shrunken cocoon chafing against my skin. I pull away from the rough interior. Something's wrong. I'm lying on my back and I can feel that the pod is still--no longer bobbing along the ocean's surface. I have to get out now! I push with every molecule of my body, but it's no use. The shell is as hard as rock. I fumble in the darkness trying to find the last section of the cocoon that I had sealed, in hopes that it might be a bit softer. My fingers meet at the top of the pod and I use my thumbnail to puncture a small hole. A bright beam of sunlight streams in and momentarily blinds me. As I had suspected, there is no water. I begin to panic. Where am I? I need the ocean's pressure to help me break through the shell. I frantically chip away at the small hole and attempt to push one of my newly developed legs out. The sensation of being able to move my lower limbs independently throws me off balance. They flail weakly as I try to maneuver them over my body to thrust them up and out. Although I've watched humans walk and dance and kick, I don't know how to use these new limbs on my own. I grip the backs of my smooth thighs with my hands and pull my knees toward my chest. It's so strange to feel skin and not scales--to have no control over what was once my powerful finned tail. I position my feet against the top of the cocoon and kick the damaged shell with all my strength. The debris shatters away from my body. Stunned by the bright sunlight again, I clamp my eyes shut and roll over. I strain to push myself up, and wobble as I attempt to stand steady. For the first time in my life, I am vertical, held upright by two feet! I squint through tears and I'm terrified to see that I'm surrounded by a pack of them. Humans who I do not recognize. They don't look like the ones from my home, but I am somewhat relieved to see that they do not look like the pirates, either. I am completely exposed. My body trembles so violently, I'm afraid I will collapse. Excerpted from Shallow Waters: A Novel by Anita Kopacz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.