THE DEEP by Rivers Solomon

the-deep-1The Deep is a novella written by Rivers Solomon that is based on the Hugo-nominated song of the same name by the experimental hip hop group clipping. Their song was itself based on the afrofuturist mythology that Drexciya, an electronic duo from Detroit, created for their compilations.⠀

Which is the sort of fascinating thing you learn when you read the acknowledgements. ⠀

The Deep is about a lot of things. On its surface, though, it is about the wajinru, a mermaid-like people who have great power over the ocean but little memory. For good reason — they are a people descended from the pregnant African women who were thrown overboard during the slave trade, their unborn babies granted new aquatic life by the ocean. Theirs is a history of pain and strife. In order to thrive despite the suffering, it was decided long ago that one of their people — a Historian — should carry the burden of their history and collected memory. A responsibility that falls on Yetu, our delicate and long-suffering main character.⠀

To be a Historian means experiencing every single memory as if it was your own. Yetu however, has a fragile constitution, and so this task, this weight she carries that has stripped her of any individual identity, is killing her.⠀

So it is no surprise to us when, during an annual ceremony where the wajinru gather in order to receive the memories of their past for a brief time, time enough to satisfy a deep thirst for their own history, that Yetu, free from remembering, runs away. ⠀

What do we do with the trauma that we’ve inherited?⠀

In the acknowledgements, clipping. describes the nested style of development this particular story has gone through as a game of Telephone, the original message relayed over and over, each time a bit more different. Drixceya’s songs were largely wordless, and so they started to tell a story through their song titles — a provocative and engaging concept. clipping. took inspiration from it, added considerable amounts of verbiage, and sang a story about a world being destroyed by global warming, and about a people who rise up and exact revenge on the ones who caused it. Rivers Solomon heard the song, and decided to bring it back down to a more personal level, writing a story about a people, and their relationship to history. Their relationship to stories.⠀

Stories (and what is history if not a bunch of stories we tell about ourselves?) act much like a game of telephone. They are passed down, and thus they survive, but their shape changes as they get interpreted differently by every individual. In The Deep we are told that the role of Historian is one handed down from generation to generation, and we are presented with three different bearers of the title: Zoti, Basha, and Yetu. And through them we get three interpretations of history. To Zoti, the first Historian, it is vital to the continued survival of their people. To Basha, it is a call to action, past hurts fueling a righteous rage at present injustice. And to Yetu, it is simply a burden, too deep and heavy to carry on her own.⠀

What do we do with the trauma that we’ve inherited? It’s the central question Yetu struggles with during her journey of self-discovery. It also happens to be the question millions of people whose history has been steeped in anguish and adversity. Do we let it define us? Do we ignore it? Do we drown in it? Or do we use it to build a better, more just civilization? ⠀

Yetu finds her answer in The Deep. She shares it with her people. And she shares it with you, too.⠀

Rivers Solomon has written a compelling, poetic, and thought-provoking story, with lyrical prose that enriches clipping.’s exhilarating song, with an imagination that expands Drexciya’s foundational mythos. It’ll stay with you. You will remember it.

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