The novel The Deep was written by Rivers Solomon, but the origin of the story is actually more diverse. Drexciya, an experimental duo, created a sonic template for the story, which was expanded on by clipping. in a song titled “The Deep” and then transformed again into this short but extremely compelling novel. The story revolves around an imagined community of beings called wajinru, born of unimaginable tragedy. Imagine the real horror of pregnant women on slave ships, who were tossed overboard into the ocean when their labor made them nuisance cargo. Now imagine that their unborn children, already swimming in utero, are born into the ocean – and that the ocean makes a place for them, unique and protected. These children grow into a new type of being, the chorus of the deep – wajinru. They grow to understand they are both of the ocean and connected to fish like whales, and yet they know they are kin to humans, or “two legs”. The pain of their origins is so great that their early ancestors decide to create a single wajinru Historian – this person is responsible for remembering everything about their past. Every individual wajinru lives unburdened by their memories – only retaining a faint wisp of emotion – while a single wajinru contains every collective memory of their species. Once a year, the historian shares these memories at an event call The Remembering. There, the entire community can gather and remember their past, to recall who they are, for just a few days – then they give the memories back to the historian.
The story begins just days before such an event, and we learn that Yetu, who has been the Historian for about 20 years now, is feeling beyond drained from the position. Yetu is searching for a way out of her pain, and when she sees an opportunity to be free, she takes that. She struggles to understand how her community can ask this much of her – and how she can bear the responsibility of either accepting all of their pain or, possibly worse, having them endure it without her. Ultimately, through her journey and encounters with other beings, she makes a choice that helps her to reclaim her identity.
This is a novel about discovery and memory, and how closely related these two can be. It’s quite interesting to read this novel soon after reading a book like Ancestor Trouble – what is the appropriate role of understanding our history? How much do we need to know about our past to define who we are in the present? When we have collective trauma as part of our past, how do we move forward? How can we share that burden? I’m not sure of the answers to these questions, but I truly value the way that stories help bring us closer to understanding one another.