Plenty of books have become movies, and a good many movies have been novelized. But how many songs? Rivers Solomon’s novella, The Deep, adapts the Hugo Award-winning song of the same name by clipping. (Daveed Diggs, William Huston, and Jonathan Snipes) into a brand new story. Both tell the story of the wajinru, an ocean-dwelling people descended from African women thrown overboard from slave ships. The Deep, the book, focuses on Yetu, a historian who must confront the wajinru’s traumatic past, while learning to love herself and live in the present.
The Deep explores the consequences of history and its impact on a community. Historians of the wajinru not only preserve history for personal interpretation, they absorb the painful past so that the rest of wajinru can live free of the pain from these memories. Historians carry the pain from the violence inflicted on their African forbearers and only share it at an event called the Remembrance, when all the members of the community come together and learn together in a kind of psychic trance. The Remembrance provides an excellent system for delivering a fantastic escape from the horrors of actual history. These awful memories overwhelm Yetu, a young historian, who leaves her community in crisis and nearly gets herself killed. Yetu’s journey crosses the depths of the ocean as she attempts to find her way to the surface and explore her distant kindred. On the surface, she finds herself as a creature of two worlds and comes to realize the balance she needs to attain between both of them.
So, how did a song become a book, anyway? Fans of clipping.will have picked up on the fact that The afterword section of The Deep explains it as a “game of artistic Telephone.” Production of all versions of The Deep draws from a rich history of afrofuturism in music. It began with the electronic music group Drexciya, who planted the idea that drowning pregnant African women could give birth in the ocean in the liner notes of one of their albums. In 2017, clipping. sampled and wrote lyrics expanding on the idea, taking influences from other science fiction works along the way. Then, the idea passed to writer Rivers Solomon. They worked out the details into the not-quite-adaption that became the novella. The two do not actually tell the same story, but rather imitate the communal memory of the Wajinru: two pieces of art, from one concept.
As cutting edge and engrossing as “The Deep” sounds, The Deep’s beautiful prose certainly gives it a run for its money. Yetu’s underwater world comes alive in beautiful, detailed prose. The society of the wajinru seems as optimistic, but this only brings a freshness to utopian writing. Despite their painful past, the wajinru certainly do exert a kind of perfection in the equality they display toward each other. Their society thrives on the well-being and creativity of every member of their society.
The concept of an underwater country has inspired a fascinating novella. The Deep demands not only personal reconciliation with history, but communal. It displays the kind of hybrids that come about from a colloboration between writers, musicians and other artists. clipping. will be exploring the world of the wajinru further with another six tracks set to release on November 29.
Three out of five stars
Favorite quote: “The impossible weight of her responsibility to the world would obliterate her before she had the chance to fix what she’d done.”