Rivers Solomon’s The Deep is a quick read that you’ll wish you could live in for much longer.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon, who’s currently best known for the science-fiction novel An Unkindness of Ghosts, tells a unique story of a water-dwelling people. The wajinru aren’t your typical mermaids. They are the descendants of pregnant victims of the African slave trade who were thrown overboard on their journey across the Atlantic.
Since the history of the wajinru is too painful for them to bear, but the thought of forgetting is even more impossible, they appoint one member of their species to carry the memories for everyone. Every year, the historian must deliver the history to their people, allowing them to process the lessons and value of the memories before becoming blissfully unaware once more.
When we meet Yetu in The Deep, she has shouldered the heavy cross of her ancestors’s memories for most of her life. As the “remembering” is drawing near, she must decide if the history and the needs of the wajinru are worth risking her own life to keep carrying.
The Deep is based on a song by Clipping, the rap group consisting of William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes, and Daveed Diggs, who you’ve probably seen in either Hamilton, Black-ish or Blindspotting. All three members of the group have author credits on this novella helmed by Rivers Solomon. The song, which shares a title with this book, was written to supplement the “We Are in the Future” episode of the This American Life podcast.
I was very intrigued when I heard that the inspiration for The Deep came from a song, so I was excited to hear what the song was like before I sat down to read the book. What I didn’t know at the time was that my journey through listening to the song for the first time would be shockingly similar to my experience reading the book. I was initially intrigued and confused, but quickly found myself completely entranced.
The Deep is a very quick read, with the novella coming in at only 176 pages. However, it manages to say more with its relatively small word count than some multi-novel series I’ve read.
The book wastes no time pulling you in with its unique, poetic language. It takes you under so quickly that you might even feel like you’re drowning and gasping for air, trying to stay afloat, until you start to get a feel for the world, the characters, and the writing style. When you do catch your breath, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful vastness of the text, much like the depths of the ocean in which the story is set.
The Deep largely tells Yetu’s story, and doesn’t spend too long developing the book’s other characters. It’s rare that I find myself so thoroughly entertained by a story that focuses so entirely on one character, but Yetu’s perspective is so special, seamlessly shifting between memories, the mundane, and mindful introspection, that I was kept on my toes from start to finish.
Yetu is a great character whose struggle you really feel throughout The Deep. She’s constantly torn between serving her own needs and helping her people in a way that feels important, and almost tangible. I felt the pit in my stomach each time she had to make one of the impossible choices that she’s faced with in this book.
To me, the mark of a great story is that it shines a new perspective on something or leads me to thoughts and questions that I previously hadn’t considered. The Deep performed both of these roles excellently.
Through Yetu, the wajinru, and some of the book’s other characters, The Deep explores themes of legacy, trauma, individuality, community, and the importance of knowing where you come from. It successfully builds a world that feels real enough that you can ask yourself about these things alongside the characters, without feeling like you’re being spoon-fed anything.
While The Deep is a short story, there is so much value to be mined from it. On top of that, it’s a beautifully written novella that will suck you in and leave you begging for more.