The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead |  Fiction

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Wow.  I mentioned after my last blog (Bullseye by James Patterson), that I was going to choose a more meaningful book, and I certainly fulfilled that intent!  This is a haunting, devastating, and decidedly meaningful novel.

The Underground Railroad begins on a vicious Georgia plantation, where escape is on the minds of all.  The early pages are very difficult to read; not that it gets easier later. I was shocked and stunned to learn about the brutality among slaves, not only just perpetrated by slave-owners upon slaves.   

The author tells us Cora’s story, who flees the plantation where she was born, risking everything in pursuit of freedom, much the way her mother, Mabel, did years before.  Colson Whitehead consistently conveys the fear, humiliation, and loss of dignity of a slave attempting to be free. Cora finds herself swept into the great secret undertaking that is the underground railroad.  And here is where the novel astonishes.  Whitehead has taken the historical metaphor of an “underground railroad” and made it real, complete with stations (some magnificent, some just dirt), stations agents who risk their lives to inform runaway slaves about the hidden entrances, and trains with no regular schedules. It is a magical metaphor.

This beautifully written book was on President Obama’s reading list for 2016. Amazing.  Will our next president suggest such a read to us?

The ending(s) – plural because there are a few – are poignant and powerful.

This book should be required reading for us all.  Do not expect to be thrilled by it.  Expect to be evocatively and deeply moved.

 

2 responses on “The Underground Railroad

  1. Mary C Crawford

    Moving this to the top of my ‘must read’ list. Thanks for recommendation.

    When I first heard the description about this book, I was transported back to early school days when I first heard about the underground railroad. I had trouble understanding it because I took the concept literally – a railroad that ran completely underground. The teacher talked about stations in St. Johns and Battle Creek Michigan but no one knew where they really were. I wanted to find them! I guess I must have tuned about the full description of how the railroad worked. For a few years I was very puzzled by this underground railroad.

  2. Mary C Crawford

    Finished this a couple of days ago. Whitehead is a terrific storyteller but this book raised some questions for me. Yes, I understand his depiction of the railroad was fictional but where did the fiction end and real-life events begin? The forest fire in TN, the Valentine farm, the employment and housing situations in South Carolina. Were these created from his imagination or did something similar actually take place, as did the Railroad in a manner different than Whitehead’s version. He cites some writings that he drew upon in his author’s note but I would have liked more information as provided by most authors of historical fiction. This ambiguity left me questioning if I learned something from this book or just enjoyed a nice fictional read.

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