Rivers Solomon's, "The Deep" is a "deeply" engaging "tail" about a species of oceanic half humans, aka mermaids, though they have their own way of defining themselves. It's actually this process of self-defining or self-identification that really propels the novel into a beautiful work of art that asks questions like what does it mean to know who you are, where you came from, or where you belong.
Yetu, our heroine, has the unique responsibility of being her people's Historian. This role entails that she solely bares all the memories of 600 years of ancestors' memories, making up her species' entire history. As they have a traumatic origin of being born from African slave woman thrown overboard by slavers, it's a history that her people, The wajinru, only desire to know during a special ceremony called "The Remembrance" where the Historian transfers the memories, only to take them all back once the ceremony is over.
If the History consolidated to just one wajinru to remember allows for their kind to live lives of "spontaneity and lack of regret," (p8) why is it so important that it be shared annually? As Yetu's amaba, a word for mother, pleads to her "We grow restless without you, my child. One can only go so long without asking who am I? Where do I come from? What does this all mean? What is being? What came before me, and what might come after? Without answers there is only a hole, a hole where a history should be that takes the shape of an endless longing." (p8) These are all very good questions that the novel explores and leaves room to ponder. Through a series of flashbacks, some of these questions are imaginatively answered when they go into specific memories from the History of how they originated from "Zoti Aleyu", meaning strange fish, to a whole civilization, renaming themselves wajinru. "We are more vast and beauteous than that name implies.We are a song, and we are together," (p64).
But are they truly unified, when one wajinru, Yetu, must hold the History alone, when it must be the "cursed relationship" between Historian and wajinru? The pressure of 600 years worth of memories takes a tole on Yetu, where she has difficulty living in the present to the point where she is physically malnourished and yearns for her own self identity apart from those of her people. "'I'm thinking. I mean, I had a thought. My own thought. My own story.' It still pleased her that she could do that, that it was possible to have a mind to herself. Without the History devouring the whole of her mind, she had an inking of who she was. She didn't have answers yet, but she had questions endless questions. And worries and concerns. But they were hers," (p110). To me, this part strikes a nerve because how often do we ask ourselves, are our thoughts really are own thoughts, let alone feel gratified when we recognize a thought as being original. Here for the first time since taking on the History, she is actually having a sense of self and individuality.
Later on in the story, she thinks on the wajinru, "Who each of them was mattered as much as who all of them were together," (p145.) I think this thought really sums up the importance of having a unique self identity, but also having an identity as a people to make up who you are.
Is this a good mermaid story?
To be a good mermaid story, it should have a plot or ideals that are specific to mermaids. In other words, there is no way to have this story on land and have it be the same story.
I would say definitely this qualifies a great mermaid story; particularly that their anatomy allows them to transfer information and memories via electrical currents, is the basis of the tale.
Also there are a few places in the book where the wajinru compare themselves and build their own sense of identity through the direct contact and comparison of "two-fins". Once as a flashback though the History and also Yetu in the present with Oori.
Is this a good story?
Yes. Meaningful content, nice use of language, intermittent suspense and logical narrative arch.
Just for fun, here's a few examples of my Deep Sea Mermaid crowns. They light up with an LED battery pack.
Currently, $65 in shop.