In this “captivating” (Harper’s Bazaar) and lyrical debut novel—perfect for fans of The Water Dancer and the Legacy of Orïsha series—the Yoruba deity of the sea, Yemaya, is brought to vivid life as she discovers the power of Black resilience, love, and feminine strength in antebellum America.
Shallow Waters imagines Yemaya, an Orïsha—a deity in the religion of Africa’s Yoruba people—cast into mid-1800s America. We meet Yemaya as a young woman, still in the care of her mother and not yet fully aware of the spectacular power she possesses to protect herself and those she holds dear.
The journey laid out in Shallow Waters sees Yemaya confront the greatest evils of this era; transcend time and place in search of Obatala, a man who sacrifices his own freedom for the chance at hers; and grow into the powerful woman she was destined to become. We travel alongside Yemaya from her native Africa and on to the “New World,” with vivid pictures of life for those left on the outskirts of power in the nascent Americas.
Yemaya realizes the fighter within, travels the Underground Railroad in search of the mysterious stranger Obatala, and crosses paths with icons of our history on the road to freedom. Shallow Waters is a “riveting and heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly) work of ritual storytelling from promising debut author Anita Kopacz.
Prologue PROLOGUE A long grunt escapes my lips. My body is numb. I cough up the last gulp of water I had taken in and held before I passed out. As I sluggishly blink my eyes, one thought repeats in my mind: I have to break through as soon as possible. I didn’t need to breathe during the transformation, but now my need for air is urgent.
My nerves awaken from the inside out. I can feel the change in my body. Everything is different. My eyes are dry. I blink a few more times in the darkness, working to clear away the crust that has formed over my lashes. Slowly I become aware of a dim light penetrating the shell of my cocoon. The sun’s rays reveal a complex webbing within the shell’s walls, strong enough to withstand the ocean’s waves.
My body stirs, and I can feel the shrunken cocoon chafing against my skin. I pull away from the rough interior. Something’s wrong. I’m lying on my back and I can feel that the pod is still—no longer bobbing along the ocean’s surface. I have to get out now! I push with every molecule of my body, but it’s no use. The shell is as hard as rock. I fumble in the darkness trying to find the last section of the cocoon that I had sealed, in hopes that it might be a bit softer. My fingers meet at the top of the pod and I use my thumbnail to puncture a small hole. A bright beam of sunlight streams in and momentarily blinds me. As I had suspected, there is no water. I begin to panic. Where am I?
I need the ocean’s pressure to help me break through the shell. I frantically chip away at the small hole and attempt to push one of my newly developed legs out. The sensation of being able to move my lower limbs independently throws me off balance. They flail weakly as I try to maneuver them over my body to thrust them up and out.
Although I’ve watched humans walk and dance and kick, I don’t know how to use these new limbs on my own. I grip the backs of my smooth thighs with my hands and pull my knees toward my chest. It’s so strange to feel skin and not scales—to have no control over what was once my powerful finned tail. I position my feet against the top of the cocoon and kick the damaged shell with all my strength. The debris shatters away from my body.
Stunned by the bright sunlight again, I clamp my eyes shut and roll over. I strain to push myself up, and wobble as I attempt to stand steady. For the first time in my life, I am vertical, held upright by two feet! I squint through tears and I’m terrified to see that I’m surrounded by a pack of them. Humans who I do not recognize. They don’t look like the ones from my home, but I am somewhat relieved to see that they do not look like the pirates, either. I am completely exposed. My body trembles so violently, I’m afraid I will collapse.
Anita Kopacz is an award-winning writer and spiritual advisor. She is the former editor in chief of Heart & Soul Magazine and managing editor of BeautyCents Magazine. When she is not writing, you can find her on the dance floor or traveling the world with her children. Anita lives in New York City with her family.
"A riveting and heartbreaking story strengthened by Kopacz’s superb ability to create a sense of place. Fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer will want to take a look" — Publishers Weekly
"A fairy tale for American adults, Anita Kopacz’s spellbinding first novel imagines the Yoruban mermaid deity Yemaya as she follows a fleet of slave ships across the ocean in the mid-1800s... A captivating debut." — Harper's Bazaar
"We transcend time and space as Yemaya herself grows from a tentative young woman into the powerful deity she's destined to become... this novel crosses genre as easily as it does time." — Buzzfeed
"Kopacz's commitment to a vision of healing even while detailing tragedies shapes this tale's themes of redemption and the universal soul. Most remarkable is Kopacz's abilty to maintain a brisk narrative pace as she delves into the weighty issues and complex experiences that shaped Yemaya's quest." — Booklist
"Fascinating and lyrical... a story of true love, resilience, strength, and love." — Women's World