Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. Celebrated by some nations since 1992, it was officially designated by the United Nations in 2008. It’s an opportunity to raise global awareness of our oceans; how they connect us; what gifts they offer us; and of course, how much work we have ahead of us to repair the damage we’ve done to them and the creatures that live in them.
I could talk about any or all of these aspects, so great is my love of oceans. And likely I have, in the course of this blog’s decade plus existence. However, I think you’ll agree 2020 is an extraordinary year, and I’m celebrating that as well. I have read some incredible books this year – some profoundly thought-provoking ones – and so many of them have turned up bearing the flags of perfect-timing synchronicity.
Such is the case of the book I want to mention today – The Deep by Rivers Solomon. I have absolutely no remembrance of who might have recommended this to me, but the other day there it was, sitting on my virtual library shelf having just become available from the hold I had clearly forgotten I had placed.
But it felt like absolutely the right book at the right time. Let me share a bit of the official blurb, from the author’s website, and see if you agree.
“Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.”
Straight up, I’m recommending this book. It’s powerful, imaginative, and thought-provoking. in keeping with my practice of awarding a rating based on floriography, the language of flowers, giving a hint at the plot as well as my appraisal, I would offer a bouquet of Adonis (sorrowful remembrance); White chrysanthemum (truth); and Pride of China (dissention).
The merits of the book itself have my raves, but I award additional bonus points because of its intriguing back story. It was inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The audiobook version, which is how I “read” the book, is narrated by Daveed Diggs, a member of the group Clipping. In the book’s afterword, the author discusses how he/they thinks of the story a bit like the game telephone or Chinese whispers, where each iteration is ultimately a unique expression and yet dependent on collaboration. This insight feels profoundly important to me, as though some overarching truth has just settled into my personal paradigm of reality. I’m not sure I have clear words to explain it, at least for now, but it does feel like one of those important moments that changes things.
The story itself has set me off on all sorts of thoughts, including my relationship with Yemaya. Anchored in the roots of the Yoruba religion, Yemaya was brought over to this part of the world by enslaved Africans as early as the 16th century. She is often depicted as a queenly mermaid, and I couldn’t help but dig out this journal page.
Finally, perhaps as an incentive for you to settle into your own thoughts about our oceans and the creatures dwelling in them, here’s a very short video offering a variety of ocean facts.
Of course if you have any ocean tales to share, or perhaps a noteworthy book to share, do tell – you know I love to hear.