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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