The Underground Railroad
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

The Underground Railroad Details

TitleThe Underground Railroad
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseAug 2nd, 2016
PublisherDoubleday Books
ISBN-139780385542364
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Audiobook

The Underground Railroad Review

  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    This is my first read by Colson Whitehead and it makes me think his style may not be to my tastes.It's personal preference, I'm sure. There are some beautiful sentences, some genius structural choices, and many great ideas. Indeed, the re-imagining of history where the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad is a great idea in itself. I just found it lacking in anything resembling emotion. It's a cold, distant, impersonal novel and it didn't pull me in.All of the secondary characters are unde This is my first read by Colson Whitehead and it makes me think his style may not be to my tastes.It's personal preference, I'm sure. There are some beautiful sentences, some genius structural choices, and many great ideas. Indeed, the re-imagining of history where the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad is a great idea in itself. I just found it lacking in anything resembling emotion. It's a cold, distant, impersonal novel and it didn't pull me in.All of the secondary characters are undeveloped and forgettable, but more than this, Cora herself wasn't given enough personality and development to really drag me into her world. The other central character - Caesar - is even less developed. I will probably have forgotten them both by tomorrow. Perhaps a first-person narrative would have better suited the subject matter and helped warm us to the characters.In this story, Cora and Caesar are slaves at the Randall estate in Georgia. Caesar proposes an escape via the Underground Railroad, which Cora initially refuses, but later agrees to when her situation becomes more dire. The book is full of every monstrous thing committed by slavers - beatings, sexual assault, executions - but I felt distanced from it because of the impersonal nature of the narrative. It was horrific, but in the way a history textbook is horrific. We should have been right there in the middle of the story with Cora, hearts pounding in fear, and yet I felt somewhat removed, reading - it seemed - an almost clinical account of history.The jerky structure that jumps from the main plot to some backstory and back again doesn't make it any easier to become invested. My interest in Cora's story waned some more every time the author picked us up and dropped us somewhere else. With no emotional connection to the characters and little opportunity to become connected to the plot, I felt like this book full of clever ideas never became one I was truly affected by - no enjoyment, no sadness, no anger, no nothing.Colson Whitehead is obviously smart. He obviously did a shitload of research. But I just didn't care.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube | Store
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  • Roxane
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent writing, strong concept. I am personally burnt out on slavery narratives so I cannot say this was a pleasure to read. So much unrelenting horror. Whitehead does an excellent job of portraying slavery and America as a slave nation. The idea of the underground railroad, as an actual railroad, is so smart and interesting. I wish he had actually done more with the railroad itself. There were some sentences where I thought, "Now you are just showing off." The amount of research the author d Excellent writing, strong concept. I am personally burnt out on slavery narratives so I cannot say this was a pleasure to read. So much unrelenting horror. Whitehead does an excellent job of portraying slavery and America as a slave nation. The idea of the underground railroad, as an actual railroad, is so smart and interesting. I wish he had actually done more with the railroad itself. There were some sentences where I thought, "Now you are just showing off." The amount of research the author did is clear, throughout. There is some really interesting structural work at play. I wanted some of the secondary characters to be more fully developed. This book is going to do very well, and rightly so.
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  • Navidad Thélamour
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars “All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.” I was really looking forward to this read! I had an interesting relationship with The Intuitionist, having read it in college and not quite grasped it then came back to it later and enjoyed it more. I love everything that Colson Whitehead is about (and I hope to read Zone One soon), but this particular foray into his work turned out to be a little less than a love affair for me. The Underground Railroad starts on the Ra 3.5 stars “All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.” I was really looking forward to this read! I had an interesting relationship with The Intuitionist, having read it in college and not quite grasped it then came back to it later and enjoyed it more. I love everything that Colson Whitehead is about (and I hope to read Zone One soon), but this particular foray into his work turned out to be a little less than a love affair for me. The Underground Railroad starts on the Randall plantation in Georgia around 1812. This plantation is an amalgamation of every horror and tragedy you’ve ever heard of about slavery. Slaves are beaten and raped for amusement, even on display for the entertainment of guests sipping lemonade; attempts at fleeing from bondage or bucking the system are (often arbitrarily) met with public displays of execution, from being strung up and castrated to a good ole-fashioned tarring and feathering. Life on the plantation is as rough for women—who are used as breeders for more slaves, hence more money, and are constantly at the mercy of male appetites, both from those in the ivory tower and those in the fields—as it is for the laboring men. In the midst of it all, Cora, a stray who’s gained a bit of a scarlet letter because her mother fled the plantation and left her behind years back, starts her long journey to freedom one quiet night with nothing but a sack of unripe turnips, two companions and the North Star as their guide. But the untold horrors that she will face ahead of her on this trek will sometimes rival those that she left behind. With a bounty on her head and dreams of education and freedom beckoning her forward, she will stop through a slew of Southern states—all with their own systems of Southern justice and oppression—and find herself on Whitehead’s re-envisaged Underground Railroad. Within these pages, you’ll embark on a re-imagined historical truth that could only be a creation of Colson Whitehead. Here, the Underground Railroad is—get this—an actual train (or a single, rickety locomotive, but you get the point), complete with a conductor. At times that term is more allegorical than actual, but even the conductors have their own pasts that, at times, ensnare Cora in their trap-like grasp. Human sterilization to control the growth of the Negro population (which, in some states, "problematically" rivals the numbers of the white population), blackface, and the Tuskegee Project are all touched on here, are all experienced by our heroine in some periphery of her journey. Those are the goodie takeaways. Now for my qualms. This novel would’ve been better served being written in first person, for Cora’s chapters at the very least. This is a harrowing journey, a terrifying trek into the unknown for a young woman who has never been outside of the confines of the Randall Plantation for her entire life. She’s never worked for her own wages, never bought her own new dress, never even been to see a doctor. We want to see, touch and taste every moment of what she feels. We want to quiver when she quivers and scream when she hurts. We want to experience these truths re-imagined for ourselves, because this is a remarkable journey set in a harrowing past that our country would rather keep hushed and obscured. To truly break us out of this—to truly immerse us in this and better make the point that Whitehead sought to make—we should’ve been squarely in Cora’s shoes, not watching her from above in a slightly removed, vaguely clinical 3rd person. While Whitehead’s intellectualism serves his plots well, it doesn’t do the greatest wonders for soulful and immersive execution. Perhaps that comes down to being a matter of personal preference. I found his writing style, as was the case in his The Intuitionist as well, to be talented but, yes, just a tad by the way of clinician. And finesse—oh, finesse, thou art an allusive thing! Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of it here, and by that I mean that this was quite the bull-ride read: jerky and rough. I had to re-read several passages, because segues from one event to the next were often non-existent. Suddenly, you were in a saloon, or in the middle of an attack by rogue outlaws, then learning letters in a schoolhouse. Literally, a person could go from alive to dead in a single, four-sentence paragraph! Um, what?? (Shaking head vigorously.) What just happened now? Also, I could’ve done without the backstory chapters of the minor characters. Every single one of those “let-me-elaborate-on-this-(minor)-character’s-past-life” chapters could’ve been gutted from this manuscript—all except for one. And that one you’ll know when you read it. Still, Colson Whitehead managed to touch on the justifications and absolutions that the antebellum South whispered to themselves at night to justify their actions, biblical references that laid the way for Manifest Destiny and all the other gluttonous rationalizations that makes slavery possible, in any land, in any era. And for that, I applauded him. The story itself was great—a truly epic adventure—but the pace at which it jerked, sometimes lullingly slow and others at whiplash-inducing speeds, turned me off. And, I have to say, any novel where I feel even the slightest urge to skim and skip ahead can never get 4 stars from me. But his work is definitely unique in its own right, and for that I would absolutely recommend this novel to anyone who has read the blurb and marked it as to-read, to anyone who’s already familiar with Whitehead’s talents and appreciated them, and for those who have yet to become familiar with them. I have a deep respect for this author; the style just didn’t work for me the way I’d hoped this time, and for that I award 3.5 stars ***I received an advance-read copy of this novel from the publisher, Doubleday, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.FOLLOW ME HERE:Art + Deco Agency Book Blog | Twitter | Instagram | Art + Deco Publishing Agency
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  • Trish
    January 1, 1970
    For nearly twenty years the work of Colson Whitehead has been published to wide acclaim, his fiction and nonfiction both receiving many accolades. For this reason I was eager to have the chance to read his new novel that focused on the origination of the race debate in America—slavery. This new novel is due out September 13, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for the opportunity to read an e-galley.The story centers around Cora, a motherless slave living on the Randall estate in Georgia. Wh For nearly twenty years the work of Colson Whitehead has been published to wide acclaim, his fiction and nonfiction both receiving many accolades. For this reason I was eager to have the chance to read his new novel that focused on the origination of the race debate in America—slavery. This new novel is due out September 13, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for the opportunity to read an e-galley.The story centers around Cora, a motherless slave living on the Randall estate in Georgia. When another slave, Caesar, suggests they attempt an escape, Cora initially demurs…until she draws unwanted sexual attentions from her owner. The problems with this novel are not in the motivations. Those we understand. The problems are technical: an insufficiently developed Cora, and a mere silhouette of Caesar, the two central characters. When Caesar practically disappears from the narrative one-third of the way in, we barely notice, he was so inconsequential and underdeveloped. Talk about exploitation: he was simply a device.But this is fiction, and the author can do whatever he wants, like create an actual underground railroad to eliminate the pesky problem of researching and charting a perilous journey to innumerable secret above-ground destinations that would allow us to picture and relive the terror, the deprivation, and the strength of character of all participants in the movement of hunted individuals within a dangerous environment. When the author suggests that white community members in South Carolina at this time were encouraging scientific experiments on, and recommending sterilizations for, freed black men and women, we don’t trust it and are annoyed that we are going to have to do our own research to verify the (outrageous if false) claim in the fictional narrative.Problems of language are also present here, with untenable and frankly unbelievable hectoring challenges from Cora to her white rescuers along the trail: “You feel like a slave?…Born to it, like a slave?” …and Cora’s challenge to Ridgeway, the homicidal slave catcher, after a chatty exchange: “More words to pretty things up.” When Cora idly wonders whether a new wave of immigrants will replace the Irish, “fleeing a different but no less abject country” we are startled. Where did that come from and why would Cora have any knowledge of, or any particular interest in, conditions in Ireland or anywhere else, for that matter? It just isn’t reasonable and seems out of place.Then we have the awkwardness of the language: “Cora kept her tongue,” and “Over the years life on Orchard Street passed with a tedium that eventually congealed into comfort,” or “The game of husband and wife was even less fun than she supposed. Jane, at least, turned out to be an unexpected mercy, a tidy bouquet in her arms, even if conception proved yet another humiliation.” These exceptionally ugly, charmless, and clichéd constructions add nothing to our pleasure. Finally, there is no momentum in this novel. The storyline is broken into chunks that attempt to explain the backstory of some character or another or tell the story of a stop on Cora’s trail to freedom. Each break draws us further and further from any interest in Cora’s forward progress. It seems she (and we) will never get there.I have seen the glowing reviews for this title, so take my criticisms as one among many. This would not be the title you should expect will give you a rich understanding of the real underground railroad for escaped slaves. For that we will have to look elsewhere.
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    Every year, I have either never heard of the films nominated for the Best Picture Academy award or when I see them, I don’t think the movie is all that great; long drawn out scenes with landscapes, close ups of glowering faces, monotonous dialogue, etc. I know that every movie doesn’t have to be action packed, but forced artsy-ness or movies nominated for content but not quality are frustrating.The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize this year. I have read other Pulitzer Prize winners an Every year, I have either never heard of the films nominated for the Best Picture Academy award or when I see them, I don’t think the movie is all that great; long drawn out scenes with landscapes, close ups of glowering faces, monotonous dialogue, etc. I know that every movie doesn’t have to be action packed, but forced artsy-ness or movies nominated for content but not quality are frustrating.The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize this year. I have read other Pulitzer Prize winners and generally I have found them to be just okay. Or, in looking through the list of winners, I have not even heard of them at all. Because of this, Pulitzer Prize and Best Picture Awards are very similar to me. I really am not sure what the ultimate criteria ends up being, but apparently it is not criteria that I would use.Disclaimer – as you can probably tell already, I did not like this book. That does not mean that I wish to convince you that you should not like it or not read it. It does not mean that if you gave it 5 stars I want to fight about it. All it means is that this book just did not work for me and I cannot tell why it was so great. We can discuss our differences in opinion, but there will be no need to argue!I am stuck between 1 and 2 stars on this book. If there was a half star option, I would move forward with a 1.5 star rating. By the time I am done typing this review, maybe I will be able to settle on which one I will go with.I listened to the audiobook. I always have an audiobook going on and this is the first time in a long time that I can remember fighting to maintain interest and pay attention to the story (in fact, I think the last time that happened was with All the Light We Cannot See – another Pulitzer Prize winner). With this being the case, at least one star from 5 has to be removed.The characters and the story for me were just blah. I have read other stories and books with difficult subject matter about people being oppressed. In those books the characters were charismatic and impassioned. You felt for the characters and their plight. The story is enthralling and you care about what happens and the ultimate outcome of the story. (Some examples of this are The Help, Between Shades of Gray, The Power of One, etc.). With The Underground Railroad the story was fairly flat for me and the characters kind of uninteresting – reading about what they were going through was more like a bland history book than a story meant to entertain and draw emotion. Considering the subject matter, this was rather unfortunate to me. Also, there was lots of time jumping so I was frequently confused about what was happening, to whom, and in what time frame - this probably led to the fight to stay interested. With this being the case, another star has been removed, bringing us to 3.The book is called The Underground Railroad. I thought that this was going to be about The Underground Railroad. Instead, the railroad is just a bit part in the main story (view spoiler)[in the end, it comes around to play a big part in the final scene, but up until then we only saw it or heard it mentioned a few times (hide spoiler)]. I know that an author can name a book anything they want, but this name seemed to point toward a very specific plot point that ended up being minor throughout – and that felt weird to me. The best analogy I can think of is if all the Harry Potter books had his name replaced with “Hogsmeade” in all the titles. While Hogsmeade is a place they go in every book, and sometimes important things happen there, it is hardly the most important location in the book, so why would you put it in the title? With this being the case, another star has been removed, bringing us to 2. (Side note on the "Railroad" itself. Seemed like a bit of Magical-Realism that to me felt forced and out of line with the rest of the book. For me, the author was trying too hard for the literal metaphor.)I know it probably seems like I am being harsh on this book, but it won awards! It was Oprah’s Book Club pick! The subject matter is in a genre that I have read other captivating books from and was led to believe this one would be right up there with them. My Goodreads friends have consistently been giving it high marks. I was expecting a big payoff! I was expecting to be moved to tears! I was expecting to be first in line when they make this into a movie! But . . . none of this happened. I cannot tell why it won awards. I am not sure why my friends give it high praise. I cannot put this up there with other books I have read with similar subject matter. And, I will not go see this if they make it into a movie. With this being the case, another star has been removed, bringing us to 1.So, 1 star . . . that’s it for me. I hope that you enjoyed it, and I don’t discourage others from trying it, but I cannot recommend it or go higher with my rating.
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  • Elyse Walters
    January 1, 1970
    I came to this book with some resistance, regardless of it being the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2017.I've owned the physical book since last year. It kept being easier to read something else. I felt it was my duty to read this book.But wait.....Haven't I done my duty? I've read three James Baldwin books 'this' year....I've seen the movie "12 Years a Slave", and "Birth of a Nation".I've read "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, "The Kitchen House", by Kathleen Grissom, "Between The World And Me", by Ta-Neh I came to this book with some resistance, regardless of it being the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2017.I've owned the physical book since last year. It kept being easier to read something else. I felt it was my duty to read this book.But wait.....Haven't I done my duty? I've read three James Baldwin books 'this' year....I've seen the movie "12 Years a Slave", and "Birth of a Nation".I've read "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, "The Kitchen House", by Kathleen Grissom, "Between The World And Me", by Ta-Nehisi Coates, etc. Still needed to do my duty!!! My expectations going into this book were LOW. I saw more 3-stars and 'under' until 'recently'. The very first few reviews I saw last year had 'negative' things to say about this book. I thought .... "great, one less painful book for me to experience"! And then......something happened- I read a VERY MOVING 5 star review by *Julie Christine Johnson*......that seriously stayed with me. I knew it was time to read this book soon. STILL with some resistance ---BUT...I knew I believed whole heartedly in everything I read in Julie's review. This was a case where reading reviews- low & high... WAS SUPPORTIVE to me BEFORE I read the book. NONE of the reviews spoiled my own reading. I HIGHLY-HIGHLY RECOMMEND READING MANY REVIEWS- HIGH - LOW- MIDDLE - and DNF....if on the fence about reading "The Underground Railroad". Given my expectations started out LOW .. I was pleasantly happy to discover I enjoyed reading this book much more than I thought. At the same time, I tend to agree with some of the low reviews, and some of the high reviews. In Navidad Thelamour's review, she says: "The novel would've been better served being written in first person, for Cora's chapters at the 'very' least". I AGREE WITH HER!! ......I think - as the reader - we might have FELT what she was experiencing MUCH MORE ... if we felt as if she were speaking to us. It might have been even 'more' unbearable to read though.I was especially inspired by Poingu's review.She says: "I finished utterly exhilarated. This novel is a triumphant act of imagination". I AGREE!!!!!However, Poingu goes on to mention something she did not like. Poingu says: "There were too many characters to superficially drawn; sometimes I felt there was too much narrative summary; the bad guys trended toward evil caricatures rather than multidimensional people; there was an odd distancing effect between the reader and any one character because there is so little offered of each characters interior thinking". I ALSO AGREE!!!!!!I could never have put that sentence together so eloquently as Poingu. - thank you, Poingu! I 'stopped ' trying to remember all the minor characters. There were TONS!!! Almost TOO MANY! However-like Poingu, .... SHE LOVED READING THIS BOOK. I did too!!! So, for me, I didn't worry about the minor flaws. Or all the minor characters . It was the greater context which I was taking in. I ended up being blown away by the powerful allegory of the Underground Railroad... the crafting of this story played with 'my imagination'. Very clever creative structure. We get to keep dancing in imaginary visuals of being - on a train - a real train with conductors- but then are jolted by horrifying beatings, lynchings staged like a theater production, rapes, and brutal truths from state to state . Everything about slavery was so terrifying--that by the end this novel, I was left with the incredible achievement "The Underground Railroad" is. Cora is on the run from Arnold Ridgeway - the master slave catcher ( she didn't know she was on the run when she first learned about FREE NORTH, that Caesar told her about). Things are not as easy as 'free'. From South Carolina, to North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, on to 'the north'....at every step of the way... there is terror, hatred, atrocity, gruesome repulsion. The descriptions are horrific. Its hard to be with SO MUCH VIOLENCE! However, the brutal honesty lights a fire in us. We DO NOT WANT TO EVER ALLOW HISTORY TO REPEAT ITSELF.... so yes, we I'm glad I read this book. Even with some minor flaws --- I can't give this novel less than 5 stars. I'm sad - sorry - angry and ashamed- for all the horrific sufferings in our past history over racial inequality!At the same time --I'm left with hope - strength- and our humanity. Brutal and Beautiful Book! .....I hope they make a movie.... I think the impact would be powerful. There are some great interviews of Colson Whitehead. He is such a humble and wonderful man! Worth looking up!
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  • Will Byrnes
    January 1, 1970
    What a world, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close, but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing th What a world, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close, but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand. - Colson Whitehead People get ready, there’s a train a-coming - Curtis MayfieldIn Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Underground Railroad, he takes a figurative term and gives it a literal application. This Underground Railroad posits a literal brick, steel, and steam system that transports fleeing slaves from southern captivity to what is hoped to be a form of freedom. This RR has actual station agents and train conductors. Most importantly, it has passengers. Image from Whitehead’s Twitter feed Our guide through this underworld is Cora, 17 when we meet her, a slave on the Randalls’ property, in Georgia. Encouraged to flee with him by fellow slave, Caesar, she demurs, fearing failure and dire circumstances. But when her situation at the property becomes too damaging to endure, she signs on.Throughout the tale, we get bits of backstory. We learn of Cora’s mother, a slave who had fled when Cora was 11, never to be seen or heard from again. We learn some details of slave life. That brutality was a central feature will come as no surprise to anyone, but some of the specifics of such an existence will be news to many of us. The book had a particularly long gestation. I had the idea for the book about 16 years ago, recalling how when I was a kid, I thought the Underground Railroad was a literal railroad and when I found out it wasn’t, I was disappointed. So I thought it was a cool idea, and then I thought, “Well, what if it actually was a real railroad? That seems like a cool premise for a book.”  But I had just finished up a research-heavy project and wasn’t up for that kind of ordeal again, and I didn’t feel mature enough or up to the task. But every couple of years, when I was between books, I would pull out my notes and ask myself if I was ready. And inevitably I would realize that I wasn’t really up for it. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I really committed to the idea. - from the Bookpage interviewThere is much here that hearkens back to literary classics. Cora might certainly feel a kinship with Jean Valjean of Les Miserables, escaping a wretched life, but pursued by a relentless, Javert-like slave catcher, Arnold Ridgeway. Ridgeway had been enraged for years that he’d failed to find and bring back Cora’s mother, Mabel, who had fled six years earlier. One might also think of stories like Gulliver’s Travels, in which each stop along the journey points out another form of madness. Colson Whitehead - image from the NY TimesThe route takes Cora from Georgia to what seems a relatively benign South Carolina, then on to North Carolina for some new forms of horror, and finally on to Indiana, which offers its own forms of misery. Whitehead is not shy about part of his plan. I thought, why not write a book that really scares you?Whitehead was more interested in communicating the internal rather than external historical reality. The first chapter in Georgia I tried to make realistic and stick to the historical record, and then after that, I wanted to stick to the truth of the black experience but not necessarily the facts. As we go to South Carolina and Indiana and the different states that Cora goes to, I am playing with history and time, moving things up to talk about the Holocaust, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and the eugenics movement. So in some sense, it’s not really a historical novel at all because I’m moving things around. - from the Bookpage interviewWhitehead peppers Cora’s story with bizarre events, like regular public lynchings in one town, an early and bitingly grim version of public entertainment, reminiscent of feeding Christians to lions for the delight of the townspeople. A living history museum in which Cora plays the part of slaves through history in diverse tableaux makes your spidey senses wonder what might result.Whitehead took his inspiration from diverse sources. Cora spend a protracted time in an attic, terrified of being discovered, and with good reason, as public lynchings are regularly held right across the street in a public park. The inspiration for that was Harriet Jacobs’ autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, in which Harriet hid for years in a crawl space, terrified of being captured. Primarily I read slave narratives. There are a few histories of the Underground Railroad; one of the first ones I read, which proved the most useful was Bound for Canaan by Fergus Bordewich. That gave me an overview of the railroad, but the main thing was just reading the words of former slaves themselves. - from the Bookpage interviewIt would be a challenge to remain unmoved by Cora’s journey, and impossible to come away from reading this book without learning some things about the slave experience and the conditions that people treated as property endured. One may take issue with decisions made by this or that person in the story, but it is worth suspending a bit of disbelief to appreciate the journey on which Whitehead leads us. No one will force you to read The Underground Railroad, but choosing to do so would be an excellent expression of your freedom.Review posted – June 20, 2017Publication date – August 2, 2016=============================EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author’s personal and Twitter pagesAugust 2, 2016 – NY Times - Colson Whitehead on Slavery, Success and Writing the Novel That Really Scared Him - by Jennifer SchuesslerINTERVIEWS-----Oprah’s interview with CW requires tolerating it having been broken down into very small chunks, each with a 15 second ad that repeats for each section, which is scream-inducing----- Oprah, American history and the power of a female protagonist - Bookpage.com – by Stephanie HarrisonSONGS-----Follow the Drinking Gourd-----Go Down Moses-----The Gospel Train----- People Get Ready -----Swing Low, Sweet Chariot-----Wade in the Water
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  • Angela M
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars rounded up.This is a difficult book to read with the horrific treatment and gruesome punishments of African American slaves so much a part of the narrative, but it is essential that we read this and other books like it . We need these powerful, compelling and gut wrenching reminders of what life was like on a plantation in Georgia and other places in the South and what it might have been like to be a runaway. This story is told mainly from the perspective of a young slave woman named C 3.5 stars rounded up.This is a difficult book to read with the horrific treatment and gruesome punishments of African American slaves so much a part of the narrative, but it is essential that we read this and other books like it . We need these powerful, compelling and gut wrenching reminders of what life was like on a plantation in Georgia and other places in the South and what it might have been like to be a runaway. This story is told mainly from the perspective of a young slave woman named Cora and the portrayal of her escape and journey toward freedom. I was also moved by the story of Cora's grandmother Ajarry, captured in Africa and transported to America. Cora's mother Mabel also has her story.Colson Whitehead imagines the The Underground Railroad as if it were an actual railroad with trains and conductors. While this work is a fictional representation of the time and place and does an excellent job of conveying the time and place and what seems like a genuine feeling of what it was like to be Cora, I have to admit I had some reservations about making it a real railroad. I felt like the creation of an actual railroad in a way diminishes the the true Underground Railroad whose strength was the people moving people to freedom not a railway but a network of routes and a group of people who didn't have a railroad to move them around . I'm sure there will be much discussion of this and I may be an outlier here. So for this and the fact that I found it a little slow going and just had too many characters, I would rate this 3.5 stars if half stars were allowed . But overall , this is just such an important book that I have to round it up to 4 stars . Cora's story is one that we mustn't forget because she represents so many of the real life slaves who we have to remember. Thanks to Doubleday and Edelweiss.
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  • Michael Finocchiaro
    January 1, 1970
    The Underground Railroad is an intense ride. I had not taken "railroad" to be a literal thing before reading the book. Like Cora, the protagonist, I thought it was just an informal way of smuggling escaped slaves up north. Now, I am curious to visit some of the stations should they still exist.The book itself is one of courage, brutality, and hope. It is a condemnation of the despicable crime against humanity that was slavery (and I have ancestors that were guilty of that unforgivable iniquity) The Underground Railroad is an intense ride. I had not taken "railroad" to be a literal thing before reading the book. Like Cora, the protagonist, I thought it was just an informal way of smuggling escaped slaves up north. Now, I am curious to visit some of the stations should they still exist.The book itself is one of courage, brutality, and hope. It is a condemnation of the despicable crime against humanity that was slavery (and I have ancestors that were guilty of that unforgivable iniquity) with vivid, terrifying depictions of the violence that kept the institution going. It was also sad to see that the white hate of black skin went as far north as Indiana - but then, no, is was unsurprising at the same time. It made me reflect on the current rehabilitation of racism in Drumpf's America and how little so much of the white population has really learned from this shameful past.I am not sure that this book is on the level of other Pulitzers: despite the vivid characters and fast-paced action, I felt the pace was uneven and the descriptions a little lacking. Nonetheless, it was an important read and a moving one. I just wonder if we will ever have an accounting of the number of horrible deaths that transpired, the number that got away like Cora, and the ones that didn't.
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  • Justin
    January 1, 1970
    I'm a guy who enjoys "best of" lists. One of my favorite things about December, besides my birthday, Christmas, football, colder weather, and hot chocolate, is sitting down to peruse lists of the best stuff of the year. Books, movies, albums, video games, etc. I love it. I have trusted sources that I rely on to provide my with the best of the best, and when I start to see the same stuff appear on very list, I drop everything and consume it. Like right now I'm watching The Americans because Seaso I'm a guy who enjoys "best of" lists. One of my favorite things about December, besides my birthday, Christmas, football, colder weather, and hot chocolate, is sitting down to peruse lists of the best stuff of the year. Books, movies, albums, video games, etc. I love it. I have trusted sources that I rely on to provide my with the best of the best, and when I start to see the same stuff appear on very list, I drop everything and consume it. Like right now I'm watching The Americans because Season 4 was consistently ranked as one of the best shows on TV last year. I watched La La Land and Manchester by the Sea because they were the two two movies on almost every list out there for 2016. Beyoncé's Lemonade album is awesome, too. And The new stuff from Radiohead. But my fascination with lists doesn't necessarily mean I'm always consuming the best media in the entire world because it's so universally critically acclaimed. Sometimes a movie is just awful no matter what the experts say. Sometimes an album just doesn't do it for me no matter how many times I try to listen to it. And sometimes a book just doesn't win me over like it does others. That's all really great though. It's awesome. It's what makes us human and different and all that. We get to have different opinions and stuff can resonate with us in ways that others will never comprehend. It's beautiful. The Underground Railroad just didn't do it for me. It was a tough book to read for many reasons. I mean the subject matter is just awful anyway. The fact that people were ever treated that way is disgusting and hard for me to even comprehend. The depictions in the book of cruelty were difficult to read since they were fiction rooted in real events. The concept of a real Underground Railroad was interesting, too, and put a unique spin on historical events.I just didn't think it was written very well. I didn't think the characters were developed at all so I found myself completely unattached from them. I didn't even realize one of them was out of the picture until they were brought up later in the book. I just didn't connect. I feel like the events that unfolded would have impacted me more if the characters weren't so underdeveloped. It just seemed like there were a lot of things happening, but I wasn't invested from the beginning and couldn't find my way in as I went along. So I was let down by what many consider the best book of 2016. That's OK. There's a million other books to get wrapped up, and many other books that I think deal with this time in history in a more meaningful way. I'm glad I read it though. It did provide me with a harsh reminder of a dark time in our country's history that is often easy to just shy away from or ignore. It was helpful, and I wanted to rate it higher, but I'm good with two stars.
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Cora is a slave at a Georgia plantation in the antebellum South. When a fellow slave tells her about the Underground Railroad, she finds the courage to run for her freedom. Thus begins her odyssey as a runaway slave, where her adventures introduce her to unprecedented horrors and lead her to disheartening realizations. The Underground Railroad rekindles the discussion and study of slavery. The harsh realit Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Cora is a slave at a Georgia plantation in the antebellum South. When a fellow slave tells her about the Underground Railroad, she finds the courage to run for her freedom. Thus begins her odyssey as a runaway slave, where her adventures introduce her to unprecedented horrors and lead her to disheartening realizations. The Underground Railroad rekindles the discussion and study of slavery. The harsh realities of those dark chapters in American history are presented with brute bluntness but remain eloquent in their presentation. It makes for a strange but savory contrast, to read about something so dreadful yet have it conferred with such sophistication: The noxious air of the hold, the gloom of confinement, and the screams of those shackled to her contrived to drive [her] to madness. Because of her tender age, her captors did not immediately force their urges on her, but eventually some of the more seasoned mates dragged her from the hold six weeks into the passage. Sometimes a slave will be lost in a brief eddy of liberation. In the sway of a sudden reverie among the furrows or while untangling the mysteries of an early-morning dream. In the middle of a song on a warm Sunday night. Then it comes, always - the overseer's cry, the call to work, the shadow of the master, the reminder that she is only a human being for a tiny moment across the eternity of her servitude. Peppered throughout the book are short, engrossing chapters highlighting secondary or even tertiary characters, but the main point of focus is Cora, a sympathetic character if ever there was one. Cora only knows one life, and it is rife with degradation, abuse, and sorrow. Cora didn't know what optimistic meant. She asked the other girls that night if they were familiar with the word. None of them had heard it before. She decided that it meant trying. Every step of her journey forces Cora to question whether or not she is still chattel. Freedom - in the purest, truest sense of the word - seems to always remain just beyond her reach. What a world this is, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your haven. [. . .] Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. The author chose his timeline well and integrates other interesting and sickening moments in American history. In addition to slavery, The Underground Railroad touches on the surreptitiously induced sterilization of blacks; the secret studies of syphilis, conducted by white doctors on black patients without their knowledge; and the rise in the practice of autopsy and the subsequent need for corpses, which led to grave robbing and the irreverent disposal of deceased black peoples' bodies for scientific study. The writing is superb throughout. Carefully selected word choices lend themselves to having harsh and long-standing impact on readers. The stone vault above was white with splashes of red, like blood from a whipping that soaked through a shirt. He wrung out every possible dollar. When black blood was money, the savvy business man knew to open every vein. At the auction block they tallied the souls purchased at each auction, and on the plantations the overseers preserved the names of workers in rows of tight cursive. Every name an asset, breathing capitol, profit made flesh. This book is an accessible read, breezy for the ease of its writing by weighty for the depth of its subject matter. It's no wonder The Underground Railroad won the 2016 National Book Award for fiction.
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  • Jim Fonseca
    January 1, 1970
    A good read and Pulitzer Prize winner, with so many reviews already, I’ll make this brief.The main character is a young woman slave who hates her missing mother for having escaped when she was a child. A young man plans to escape from the Georgia plantation and invites her to go with him, partly because he thinks she’s “good luck” because of her mother’s escape. The main story becomes one of a cat and mouse game with a brutal slave hunter on their tail. There is a “real” underground railroad run A good read and Pulitzer Prize winner, with so many reviews already, I’ll make this brief.The main character is a young woman slave who hates her missing mother for having escaped when she was a child. A young man plans to escape from the Georgia plantation and invites her to go with him, partly because he thinks she’s “good luck” because of her mother’s escape. The main story becomes one of a cat and mouse game with a brutal slave hunter on their tail. There is a “real” underground railroad running in tunnels.While on the run and at times masquerading as a freewoman, she has a variety of experiences designed to give us a view into slave life at the time (say the early 1800’s). After her early life picking cotton and the escape, she works with forged papers as a maid to white folks in Charleston; as an African at a “living exhibit” at a good-intentioned museum; and she hides in an attic for months. As a female slave she has it worse than a man because she is constantly vulnerable to sexual abuse from whites and blacks as she makes her way from Georgia to both Carolinas, Tennessee and eventually Indiana. The story portrays the catalog of abuses that blacks were vulnerable to – all the daily abuses and even the killings of slaves. But it’s not just the story of brutal work and evil slave masters, but the hunting down of freed slaves; the lies of masters who promised freedom and then reneged; the duplicity of white doctors performing eugenic experiments on unknowing blacks; the constant worry about broken families – and not just parents worrying about the fate of children stolen from them, but children worrying about the whereabouts and fate of parents now getting elderly. There is even an attack by whites on a free black settlement in the North. I think this is a great addition to the collection of books about American slavery, especially for young people, who have not read, and probably never will read, old classics such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
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  • Lori
    January 1, 1970
    I struggled through this... several times thinking of giving up. As a story revolving around such a 'heavy' subject the focus needed to be on a character less one dimensional and just a little bit likable. Cora was not a character that made me feel anything... there was no depth to her. Also, I disliked the whole idea of the Underground Railroad being an actual physical railroad which made no sense to me. Almost made it somewhat cartoonish. It would've been somewhat redeemable if there had been I struggled through this... several times thinking of giving up. As a story revolving around such a 'heavy' subject the focus needed to be on a character less one dimensional and just a little bit likable. Cora was not a character that made me feel anything... there was no depth to her. Also, I disliked the whole idea of the Underground Railroad being an actual physical railroad which made no sense to me. Almost made it somewhat cartoonish. It would've been somewhat redeemable if there had been an Authors Note explaining reasons for the choices he made. I had really high expectations for this the minute I saw it on Netgalley, but it really didn't work for me. Hugely, disappointing. Sadly, only 2 stars and that is being generous.
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  • Violet wells
    January 1, 1970
    It must be hard for a writer to create an uneducated character. It’s not really something you can research. Toni Morrison has set the benchmark, an almost impossibly high benchmark. Of late Marilyn Robinson did a good job with Lila. Whitehead evades this challenge principally by giving his central character Cora little if any inner life. Therefore this is a novel principally of surface realities. It’s a narrative of the eye more than the heart. What this means is I never felt I got to know Cora. It must be hard for a writer to create an uneducated character. It’s not really something you can research. Toni Morrison has set the benchmark, an almost impossibly high benchmark. Of late Marilyn Robinson did a good job with Lila. Whitehead evades this challenge principally by giving his central character Cora little if any inner life. Therefore this is a novel principally of surface realities. It’s a narrative of the eye more than the heart. What this means is I never felt I got to know Cora. She was eluding me as energetically as she was trying to elude all her other pursuers. Maybe that was clever on Whitehead’s part; an ingenious irony. Because Cora never stays with anyone for long she never has a faithful sounding board or foil which enables her to dramatise her inner life. She remains very cinematic, an image rather than a sensibility. There’s something fundamentally unthinkable about the brutal inhumanity of slavery. It beggars belief that educated human beings could treat other human beings with such perverted humiliating abuse. In that respect it’s an historical event that has parallels with the Holocaust. The Holocaust is often used by writers nowadays as the winning template for a thrilling and moving story. In other words the unspeakable, the inconceivable are reduced to everyday terms of reference we all recognise - essentially the good guys running from the bad guys. There is an element of that here too. We get to feel good about ourselves for cheering on Cora and booing the plantation bosses and slave catchers. The Punch and Judy principle of storytelling. For me the success of Twelve Years a Slave was it never strained to entertain. The Underground Railway does try to entertain and the outcome for me was that it was less moving as a result. It’s well written, well plotted and has some memorable visuals but I can’t say anything about it excited me as a novel with all the plaudits this has received surely should have done. Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.
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  • Pouting Always
    January 1, 1970
    Cora is a slave on a plantation in Georgia where conditions are especially rough because of the cotton industry. When she was younger her mother left her alone on the plantation and escaped, leaving Cora to fend for herself. Cora eventually becomes an outcast but when a new slave arrives on the plantation, Caesar, he approaches her and asks her to run away from him. The two set out to evade the bounty hunters and restart their lives this time as free people. I really enjoyed a lot of things abou Cora is a slave on a plantation in Georgia where conditions are especially rough because of the cotton industry. When she was younger her mother left her alone on the plantation and escaped, leaving Cora to fend for herself. Cora eventually becomes an outcast but when a new slave arrives on the plantation, Caesar, he approaches her and asks her to run away from him. The two set out to evade the bounty hunters and restart their lives this time as free people. I really enjoyed a lot of things about this book, especially the writing and Cora. There were just a few things that kept me from feeling like it was amazing though. First the whole thing about the railroad being an actual underground railroad felt unnecessary, maybe I'm just not smart enough to pick up whatever allusion was being made. It kind of made me confused for a second and I started doubting my whole life because I went wait I thought the underground railroad was a metaphor and I had to double check to make sure I wasn't missing something. Also I really didn't care very much about a lot of the back stories especially the one for the bounty hunter, the whole time I kept wishing he would just go away and die already but maybe that was the point, I don't think he's meant to be likable. The last thing was (view spoiler)[ finding out what actually happened to Cora's mother, which I mean I had figured in the beginning is what happened but I think it took something away to actually confirm it (hide spoiler)]. None of those things were really big enough to take away from the over all enjoyment of the book though. It was really well written and talks about topics that are pretty hard to stomach but these are things we should acknowledge.
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  • Book Riot Community
    January 1, 1970
    I put off reading this book, because even though I was intrigued by the whole “literal underground railroad” concept, I am also not typically a historical fiction reader. When it won the National Book Award I picked it up, and slowly read it throughout the winter in bits and pieces. Many scenes were harrowing and it was difficult to read at times. I had to walk away from it often. I read it again this month in preparation for a book discussion with the author we hosted at my library. The second I put off reading this book, because even though I was intrigued by the whole “literal underground railroad” concept, I am also not typically a historical fiction reader. When it won the National Book Award I picked it up, and slowly read it throughout the winter in bits and pieces. Many scenes were harrowing and it was difficult to read at times. I had to walk away from it often. I read it again this month in preparation for a book discussion with the author we hosted at my library. The second time around, I could focus on the writing, the structure, and the way each scene was constructed, because I already knew the heartbreaking and horrifying details of what the characters endured, and I loved the book so much more. I’m not generally one who re-reads books, and this reading experience has me re-thinking that policy.— Molly Wettafrom The Best Books We Read In April 2017: https://bookriot.com/2017/05/01/riot-... ____________________I went into this book with expectations sky high (Oprah AND Obama picked it as a must-read) and I’m happy to report that Underground Railroad more than lived up to the hype. It’s a searing account of American racism and African American agency set against the backdrop of pre-Civil War America. I tend to be very picky about my historical fiction and, under normal circumstances, I’d be grumpy about a book that takes events from several different eras and has them happen simultaneously or suggested that the Underground Railroad was literally a railroad. In Underground Railroad it all works beautifully. I never once felt grumpy that Whitehead condensed events or shifted some details in service of a larger truth. This book gave me ample fodder for thought, conversation, and writing. — Ashley Bowen-Murphyfrom The Best Books We Read In September 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/10/03/riot-r...____________________I’m sure there’s not much else I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said. Oprah used one of her many superpowers to have it published a month and a half early. It has to be a special kind of book that will inspire that kind of action. And The Underground Railroad didn’t disappoint. I’ve read many slave narratives, but Whitehead’s writing and characters left me destroyed after I closed the book.–Elizabeth Allenfrom The Best Books We Read In August 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/31/riot-r...____________________I have had three weeks to sit with this book since I finished it, and I am still not done processing it. I don’t know that I will ever be done, or that I want to be. Whitehead’s tale of Cora, an escaped slave fleeing numerous dangers, is harrowing and heart-wrenching, and the writing is so exquisite that I felt the story sharply. I cried three times by page seven, and countless times after, repeatedly moved by Cora’s struggle to find a moment’s peace in a horrific world that does not believe her worthy of it. That is the magic of this book. Whitehead tells Cora’s story so simply, so matter-of-fact, it makes the horrors all the more real. To us, it is a horrifying look at a shameful, inexcusable part of history; to Cora, it is just life as she knows it. My heart felt like it had been sledgehammered by the end. I cannot stop thinking about this book, and will not be surprised in the least if it wins all the awards. Whitehead is a remarkable, multifaceted writer, and this is his best yet.— Liberty Hardyfrom The Best Books We Read In March: http://bookriot.com/2016/04/04/riot-r...____________________Colson Whitehead is one of my favorite authors and I am here for anything he writes, especially because every book is such a different experience than anything he’s written before. This story of a runaway slave named Cora has prose that is both rich and fluid, where you know it’s beautifully written but you have trouble slowing down to appreciate it because you’re moving along so quickly through the story. It has the weight and depth of an allegory, as well as the detail and insight of a character-driven novel. The cherry on top of this impressive accomplishment is a burst of magical realism that is yet another reason this book is unlike any other you’ve read. This will be one of the big fall releases, but it’ll also be one of the big books of the year. Get ready to see it on a lot of “Best of 2016” lists, including mine.– Jessica Woodburyfrom The Best Books We Read In April: http://bookriot.com/2016/04/29/riot-r...
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  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    Cora, was a young slave on a Georgia plantation when her mother escaped, leaving Cora to the mercy of the other women in the quarters. Despite hiring a notorious slave tracker, she was never found.To say this plantation did not treat its slaves well is an understatement, some of the punishments devised caused me to, skim over them they are that horrific. When a new intelligent black man, a young man whose master had falsely promised to free him on her death, arrives as a new slave on the plantat Cora, was a young slave on a Georgia plantation when her mother escaped, leaving Cora to the mercy of the other women in the quarters. Despite hiring a notorious slave tracker, she was never found.To say this plantation did not treat its slaves well is an understatement, some of the punishments devised caused me to, skim over them they are that horrific. When a new intelligent black man, a young man whose master had falsely promised to free him on her death, arrives as a new slave on the plantation, he and a series of events will cause them both to flee. Second book on slavery I have read in a matter of days, and it doesn't get any easier. Will never understand man's cruelty towards others, no matter how much I read. This is a very good book though, and I just loved the character of Cora, she is amazing in so many ways. The underground railroad played an important part in bringing slaves to freedom and the author does something entirely original with this concept. A touch of magical realism that allows us to follow Cora as she is taken state to state. Forced sterilizations in South Carolinas, the fugitive slave act and its consequences, those hired to being back runaway slaves and what happens to, those who aid these slaves, not a pretty picture. We do meet many good people though, people that at great risk to themselves aided those they could.Tough read, worthy read. Imaginative and inventive. Another new author for me, but I will be looking into his other books.ARC from publisher.
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  • Ron Charles
    January 1, 1970
    Nobody could wait for Colson Whitehead’s new book — including Oprah, so here it is, a month early. In a surprise announcement Tuesday morning, Winfrey chose “The Underground Railroad” as the next title for Oprah’s Book Club. Originally set to release on Sept. 13, the novel is available now, the result of an extraordinary plan to start shipping 200,000 copies out to booksellers in secret.Far and away the most anticipated literary novel of the year, “The Underground Railroad” marks a new triumph f Nobody could wait for Colson Whitehead’s new book — including Oprah, so here it is, a month early. In a surprise announcement Tuesday morning, Winfrey chose “The Underground Railroad” as the next title for Oprah’s Book Club. Originally set to release on Sept. 13, the novel is available now, the result of an extraordinary plan to start shipping 200,000 copies out to booksellers in secret.Far and away the most anticipated literary novel of the year, “The Underground Railroad” marks a new triumph for Whitehead. Since his first novel, “The Intuitionist” (1999), the MacArthur “genius” has nimbly explored America’s racial consciousness — and more — with an exhilarating blend of comedy, history, horror and speculative fiction. In this new book, though, those elements are choreographed as never before. The soaring arias of cleverness he’s known for have been modulated in these pages. The result is a book that resonates with deep emotional timbre. “The Underground Railroad” reanimates the slave narrative, disrupts our settled sense of the past and stretches. . . .To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
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  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    The foundations of the United States are built on slavery and this dark history informs its evolution right up to present day where the current political environment has legitimised racism. This book is set in the early 19th century and Whitehead has made the actual allegorical historical railroad into a physical one that Cora travels on, giving her and us insights into the nature of slavery and racism, seeing the differences in how it is implemented in the states it passes through and just how The foundations of the United States are built on slavery and this dark history informs its evolution right up to present day where the current political environment has legitimised racism. This book is set in the early 19th century and Whitehead has made the actual allegorical historical railroad into a physical one that Cora travels on, giving her and us insights into the nature of slavery and racism, seeing the differences in how it is implemented in the states it passes through and just how white American society systematically dehumanised slaves and black people from every conceivable angle. This is a brutal and harrowing read, that takes liberties with history for the purpose of illuminating a history that is important, relevant in today's US, particularly given the post-truth world where falsehoods are peddled as reality.It begins in Georgia at the Randall Plantation, a place where black slaves experiences comprise of castration, sexual abuse, lynchings and more. After a particularly severe beating, Cora courageously decides to join Caesar in search of freedom through the legendary Railroad. Their escape results in Randall setting a slave catcher, Ridgeway, after them. Ridgeway is particularly invested in getting Cora because of his history with her mother. This fuels the fears and tensions in Cora in her efforts to evade him. As she travels through the different states Cora finds that her elusive hopes for freedom and independence are challenged as she becomes aware that the chains that bind are more firmly entrenched than might first appear. We have the practices of covert medical experimentation and sterilisation. At every level, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, slaves and black people are a target. The bible is used to justify and bolster this rotten, amoral and cruel system.In some ways, a first person account from Cora would have proved a more viscerally engaging experience for the reader. The characterisations in the novel are not its greatest strength, that lies in the black American history and experience compacted into Cora's train journey. For that, the author is to be applauded in its timely reminder of a history that is often swept under the carpet or questioned. This is a read that I highly recommend. Not an easy or comfortable read but a necessary one. Thanks to Little, Brown for an ARC.
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  • jessica
    January 1, 1970
    i am so thankful that historical fiction is such an accessible genre. i dont think i would have learned half the stuff i know today without it. i love that it allows readers to experience history in a completely new light, while still being exposed to its significance.that being said, sometimes the execution of a story just doesnt do a particular moment in history justice. which is what i found to be the case with this book.this honestly had so much potential to be a five star read for me. i thi i am so thankful that historical fiction is such an accessible genre. i dont think i would have learned half the stuff i know today without it. i love that it allows readers to experience history in a completely new light, while still being exposed to its significance.that being said, sometimes the execution of a story just doesnt do a particular moment in history justice. which is what i found to be the case with this book.this honestly had so much potential to be a five star read for me. i think the concept of an actual underground railroad is such a clever way to tell a story. i thought it could have been used as great vehicle (no pun intended) to really motivate and move the characters, but its significance is rather dull on paper. and i blame that on the writing. the writing style very emotionally detached, almost clinical in feeling (aka giving off those classic textbook vibes). it also doesnt allow for any sort of connection to the characters or their plight, which is the whole point of reading a historical fiction novel rather than a textbook. but even though this isnt as impactful as i hoped it would be, its still very informative. there are many moments in the novel that go into great and horrific detail about the life of slaves. while unpleasant, those components are so important and necessary and i appreciate this book for including them.so overall, i would say this story has a pretty good foundation, but unfortunately suffers from an underwhelming execution. ↠ 3 stars
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  • Brina
    January 1, 1970
    DNF-- the characters did not resonate with me. If I were to compare Underground Railroad to Homegoing, I thought the latter to be the better book this year. Underground Railroad was tough to get into and perhaps if more action had occurred in the first part of the book, I would have liked it more.
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  • Lark Benobi
    January 1, 1970
    I finished feeling utterly exhilarated. This novel is a triumphant act of imagination. I could write that there are many things I didn't like about it, too. I could list them, even. There were too many characters too superficially drawn; sometimes I felt there was too much narrative summary; the bad guys trended toward evil caricatures rather than multidimensional people; there was an odd distancing effect between the reader and any one character because there is so little offered of each charac I finished feeling utterly exhilarated. This novel is a triumphant act of imagination. I could write that there are many things I didn't like about it, too. I could list them, even. There were too many characters too superficially drawn; sometimes I felt there was too much narrative summary; the bad guys trended toward evil caricatures rather than multidimensional people; there was an odd distancing effect between the reader and any one character because there is so little offered of each character's interior thinking. But these flaws, if I can call them that in a book I loved reading so much, were in the end something like complaining about the boring parts in a Shakespeare play--for instance, the masque scene in The Tempest that always gets cut, or the hour of Hamlet that you never miss because it never makes the stage. The core metaphor of the Underground Railroad is very powerful. On one level it signals early in the novel that this story is not meant to be taken literally, which allowed a lively revisionist history to bloom as the chapters progressed, in much the same way as The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. On another level the Underground Railroad feels like so much a more than a metaphor. To imagine a real railroad dug by African American hands and kept secret from their white enslavers is a slap-in-the-face reminder of the extraordinary accomplishments of African American slaves, that they could ever imagine a better life for themselves or imagine that they deserved a better life or could step out into an utter unknown of danger, and claim their freedom. By making this impossible Railroad real, Whitehead forces readers to acknowledge just how unbelievable and extraordinary the true history of African American resistance really is.Another narrative technique I loved, something that worked well when it shouldn't have, was Whitehead's use of interstitial brief chapters to give the backstory of characters who had already died. On the surface I can't think of a more obvious way to grind the story to a halt than with a side story of a character who has already reached his/her literal end, but, wow. These were amazing. I was grateful for the detours.
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  • Julie Christine
    January 1, 1970
    "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," stated First Lady Michelle Obama at this year's Democratic National Convention. Her words seemed to come as a surprise to many, those who had either forgotten or had never known that black hands enslaved by white masters built the iconic edifice of our democracy.As we come to the end of an extraordinary eight years of the nation's first President of color while witnessing the continued systemic racism that pervades every corner of ou "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," stated First Lady Michelle Obama at this year's Democratic National Convention. Her words seemed to come as a surprise to many, those who had either forgotten or had never known that black hands enslaved by white masters built the iconic edifice of our democracy.As we come to the end of an extraordinary eight years of the nation's first President of color while witnessing the continued systemic racism that pervades every corner of our collective American culture, as we engage in open, honest dialogue about white privilege, how black lives matter, and denounce the wretched anti-immigrant language spewed by politicians and political candidates, we must also acknowledge and work to overcome the continued ignorance of our nation's darkest and ugliest history- a history that has led us inexorably to the painful circumstance of contemporary racism.In his breathtaking novel The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead demonstrates the earth-shattering power of an artistic voice to carry the legacy of the past into our now . He takes what we know to be true, but breaks free from the confines of history to create a brilliant work of fiction. Cora is a young woman enslaved on the Randall cotton plantation in Georgia, like her mother and grandmother before her. She is the voice, the eyes, ears and body by which the reader witnesses and suffers the brutality of slavery- the rape and beatings, the whippings, torture and murder of the men and women who make up her community, however transitory and temporary it is. Cora “had seen men hung from trees and left for buzzards and crows. Women carved open to the bones with the cat-o’-nine-tails. Bodies alive and dead roasted on pyres. Feet cut off to prevent escape and hands cut off to stop theft.” Cora's mother escaped years earlier, leaving her young daughter—a betrayal and an abandonment that burns deep in Cora's heart. Knowing the horrors that await a captured runaway slave, escape is only a fantasy, until Cora meets Caesar, a new arrival on the plantation. Caesar tells her about about the free north where he once lived and the way out of their imprisonment, by way of an underground railroad. He convinces her to flee, and we as readers are led from the nightmare of plantation life to the heart-stopping tension of escape. The Underground Railroad takes on a hallucinatory affect, as Whitehead makes literal the metaphorical network of safe houses that ran from the southern United States north into Canada in the 19th century. In reality, it was neither underground nor a railroad, but in this author's vibrant and vital imagination, the underground railroad is an almost faerie tale-like system, complete with stations and conductors hidden just beneath the scorched earth of slavery. Chapters of Cora and Caesar's escape alternate with the stories of other characters in the world they are fleeing, most notably the slave hunter in pursuit, Ridgeway. Ridgeway tracked but never found Cora's mother, Mabel, and this failure drives him to pursue Cora from state to state in a near-frenzy of diabolical hatred and determination. The surreal nature of the narrative makes the reality of slavery even more present and vivid. It is hard to grasp, and yet essential that we do, our recent history and how it continues to shape our present. Colson Whitehead has written a bold and terrible, beautiful and mythic novel that will hold you from the opening pages and not release you, even after you come to its end. Highly recommended.
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  • Luffy
    January 1, 1970
    The plight of slaves who are so badly treated that they are willing to risk horrendous punishment in an attempt to flee from their hellish circumstances, used to be all too common. In this historical fiction, our resident rebel is Cora, a young woman who is ready to try and escape.This book and its subject matter put things into perspective. Life used to be hellish or thereabouts to anyone not a man, and not white. Given that teenagers nowadays have it easy, very easy compared to their ancestors The plight of slaves who are so badly treated that they are willing to risk horrendous punishment in an attempt to flee from their hellish circumstances, used to be all too common. In this historical fiction, our resident rebel is Cora, a young woman who is ready to try and escape.This book and its subject matter put things into perspective. Life used to be hellish or thereabouts to anyone not a man, and not white. Given that teenagers nowadays have it easy, very easy compared to their ancestors, is a testament of the change induced with the passage of time.To be honest, I know little of The Underground Railroad, but the book that espoused this term, is a well toned, well told, and well gauged book. Historical fiction such as The Outlander series, are fun in their own way. But this book is different. It's subject matter is still of actuality, and is still sensitive. I can understand that The Underground Railroad won the National Book Award. It's thoroughly deserved.
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  • Cheri
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 Stars”The music stopped. The circle broke. Sometimes a slave will be lost in a brief eddy of liberation. In the sway of a sudden reverie among the furrows or while untangling the mysteries of an early morning dream. In the middle of a song on a warm Sunday night. Then it comes, always—the overseer’s cry, the call to work, the shadow of the master, the reminder that she is only a human being for a tiny moment across the eternity of her servitude.” ”The first time Caesar approached Cora about 3.5 Stars”The music stopped. The circle broke. Sometimes a slave will be lost in a brief eddy of liberation. In the sway of a sudden reverie among the furrows or while untangling the mysteries of an early morning dream. In the middle of a song on a warm Sunday night. Then it comes, always—the overseer’s cry, the call to work, the shadow of the master, the reminder that she is only a human being for a tiny moment across the eternity of her servitude.” ”The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no. This was her grand mother talking.” The year is 1812, and we begins on a plantation in Georgia, the Randall plantation, where we are introduced to young Cora, a girl whose mother left her behind in her search for freedom. Although her mother never told her this, she’s been told this so often, she’s sure her mother is living a free and easier life now, most likely up in Canada. ”Know your value and you know your place in the order. To escape the boundary of the plantation was to escape the fundamental principles of your existence: impossible. ”It was her grandmother talking that Sunday evening when Caesar approached Cora about the underground railroad, and she said no. “Three weeks later she said yes. “This time it was her mother talking.” And on this one night, after too many nights and years have passed, with the thoughts of freedom calling her, she leaves the only place she’s ever lived and heads for a life. Freedom. Living. From early on, she faces trials and tribulations she never even paused to think of, things that will scar her heart and that her mind can never truly forget. ”Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation, she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand.” I enjoyed the first half of this book more than I did the last. There is a somewhat disjointed nature to the last half as they were forced to move soon after they reached their destination, and began to be comfortable enough. They were never so comfortable as to stop looking over their shoulders for slave catchers. I felt a detachment in the telling, I kept wishing he had used Cora as the narrator, I knew what was happening to her, but wanted to hear from her those innermost thoughts that ran through her; her fears, her hopes for the future. I wanted to feel her story. The story moved me, but not as much as if I’d felt her story. The tempo of this is somewhat erratic, Colson seems to be trying to wrap up more loose ends of more minor stories that I wouldn’t have noticed—or cared, if I had noticed—that he’d left unresolved. I understand why, I just felt that it hurt his story rather than helped him reveal more of the heinous treatment of human beings under slavery. I was hesitant to read this because I’d read about the “Underground Railroad” in this story, being an actual railroad. I have to say that in reading this, it didn’t affect much for me, but my initial gut reaction remains: Why? I didn’t feel it added anything to the story.Favourite quote: ”She grabbed his hand. The almanac had a strange soapy smell and made a cracking noise like fire as she turned the pages. She’d never been the first person to open a book.” You won me back, a little, with that, Colson Whitehead. Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
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  • Matthew Quann
    January 1, 1970
    I rarely get to read books when they are in their acute hype phase, but I decided to put an Audible credit towards critical darling Colson Whitehead's latest novel. A couple drives back and forth across the province and I'm all done with The Underground Railroad and ready to render my verdict.ALL ABOARD!The premise is pretty enticing: a reimagining of the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad underground. It's exactly the sort of spin on the slavery narrative that critics will gobble up whi I rarely get to read books when they are in their acute hype phase, but I decided to put an Audible credit towards critical darling Colson Whitehead's latest novel. A couple drives back and forth across the province and I'm all done with The Underground Railroad and ready to render my verdict.ALL ABOARD!The premise is pretty enticing: a reimagining of the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad underground. It's exactly the sort of spin on the slavery narrative that critics will gobble up while having an "elevator pitch" hook that will draw in casual readers. The Underground Railroad also plays a bit loose with history to better achieve Truth rather than historical accuracy. So, this one aims to put story first, and leave the particulars of history to those at mahogany desks cloaked in tweed.The thing is, I had expected to be enamoured with the book. Instead, while I can objectively appreciate its craft and structure, The Underground Railroad left me a bit lukewarm. I have a tough time putting my finger on exactly what didn't jive for me, but I'll do my best to provide an opinion that will help you decide if you should spend your time traveling on Whitehead's line.TRAVEL THROUGH ROUGH COUNTRYIn Cora, Whitehead has constructed a believable, endearing, and well-developed character. The Underground Railroad opens in Georgia with the story of Cora's tempestuous upbringing on a plantation and the tenacity that leads to her flight. Though the horrors inflicted upon Cora and her fellow slaves are shocking, this section of the book had me hooked by Cora's character alone. Her refusal to give up in the face of adversity is both compelling and admirable, and never did I feel as if Cora's development was artificial.By contrast, Whitehead introduces a series of ancillary characters and stories throughout the narrative that are hit and miss. Some of these secondary players, Ridgeway the slave catcher comes to mind, are well-developed enough that I felt as if I understood their motivations, however twisted. Others just seemed like Whitehead needed a break from the main story and didn't really hit home for me. Of course, these interludes are brief and by no means sour the listening/reading experience.The railroad, I must admit, captured my imagination from the moment it appears on the page. The stations, each of different decoration, manned by a different station master were always exciting stops in the story. This is due in no small part to the almost thriller-like passages where Cora is forced to escape her current lodgings for an unknown destination. For me, these thriller passages varied in their ability to keep me hooked on every word, and never did I feel as if Cora was going to meet her end; however, the threat of some new torture being inflicted on Cora is ever-present.THERE'LL BE A FEW STOPS ALONG THE WAY...When Cora spends time in a variety of states, each with their own new horror pulled from history and stitched together, the book sags hard. I felt as if each city and residence was just a stop along the way for Cora to ponder the philosophy of just exactly what was wrong with that state's way of treating black people. Don't get me wrong: each and every one of these locations holds some form of terror, some subtle and some overt, but it just gets a bit stale after a while. And maybe this is where I lose the thread that pulls along the train of Whitehead fans. I wasn't thrilled when the story went from novel to philosophical pondering. It was different reading Coates' Between the World and Me because I expected that to be a more academic experience, but The Underground Railroad halts and stops on the tracks when Whitehead gets in a pensive mood. I felt like I was being pulled out of the story for a lecture ever once and a while, and it really cut into the stronger aspects of Whitehead's story. COMING INTO THE STATIONI'd previously read Whitehead's Sag Harbour, and had a ho-hum reaction to that at the time too. There were parts of that book that I really enjoyed too, it's just that there was always something missing that was just out of reach. I know that the philosophical sections didn't do much for me, but I was along for the ride with Cora. Maybe it's just that Whitehead isn't for me.It's quite possible you'll have a different reaction. After all, a lot of people seem to be all over this book! As for me, I can appreciate the work objectively, but subjectively I wasn't engaged with the story. SIDE-NOTE: Anyone have any Whitehead books that they absolutely love? I'm not willing to give up on him yet, and I think I'd take one more swing with him before abandoning him entirely.[Review of Audiobook]
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  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    It took me forever to read this book - it is brilliant, don't get me wrong, but so exhausting in the terror it depicts. Colson Whitehead uses a very matter-of-fact way to talk about the horrors of slavery (and there were plenty) that makes what happens somehow all the more horrific. It is mesmerising in its cruelty and devastating it its matter-of-factness about the atrocities of slavery.In this book, the Underground Railroad is just that: a system of railroads underground that help slaves escap It took me forever to read this book - it is brilliant, don't get me wrong, but so exhausting in the terror it depicts. Colson Whitehead uses a very matter-of-fact way to talk about the horrors of slavery (and there were plenty) that makes what happens somehow all the more horrific. It is mesmerising in its cruelty and devastating it its matter-of-factness about the atrocities of slavery.In this book, the Underground Railroad is just that: a system of railroads underground that help slaves escape. We follow Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, on her escape from it and through many different states, each different from the one before but all somehow horrible. Even in the more progressive states you can feel the hatred and the imagined superiority of the white majority. Everything that happens is painfully believable and all the more horrific for it. Every second chapters deals with a different character; I enjoyed these interludes a lot, as they read like short stories with all the punch that genre can have while also being part of the greater whole of the novel. The chapter focussing on Cora's mum broke my heart, even more than it had already been broken. I found this device very effective and brilliantly executed.This is an important book and one that deserves all the accolades it got, but it is also not without its flaws. Cora is a rather flat character even though she is at the core of this novel. I never got a sense for who she is as a person, but then again, this was probably intentional, rendering this girl's story universal. The importance isn't that these things happened to her, but that slavery happened to millions of people, many of which have been forgotten.
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  • Snotchocheez
    January 1, 1970
    4 stars*******UPDATE 4/10/17: Congrats to 2017 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Winner (and 2017 Tournament of Books Winner) Colson Whitehead!!!! Truly well-deserved honors!-----------------------------You gotta admire Colson Whitehead's creative tightrope act here. He puts a hyperreal spin on the scourge of slavery (and all the concomitant indignities stemming therefrom) wrought upon blacks by whites. That he achieves this hyperreality without compromising historicity is remarkable. The Underground Railr 4 stars*******UPDATE 4/10/17: Congrats to 2017 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Winner (and 2017 Tournament of Books Winner) Colson Whitehead!!!! Truly well-deserved honors!-----------------------------You gotta admire Colson Whitehead's creative tightrope act here. He puts a hyperreal spin on the scourge of slavery (and all the concomitant indignities stemming therefrom) wrought upon blacks by whites. That he achieves this hyperreality without compromising historicity is remarkable. The Underground Railroad, as you certainly can imagine from a novel about the slavery era, is not easy to stomach. Whitehead pulls no punches here: the slave life depicted on the Georgia plantation is gruesome, and matter of fact. Cora (born on the plantation) has her passions inflamed to escape after a horrific beating she receives, coupled with the idea that her mother Mabel had years earlier escaped, and at the urging of her friend Caesar that there's an "Underground Railroad" awaiting them to transport slaves to the "Free States" in the North. That's when Whitehead makes his departure from established history (and when his tightrope act begins), imagining the railroad as a real, Nineteenth Century underground slave subway-slash-time machine, with each station serving as portal to a subtly-tweaked alternate era of racial indignity. Historical time lines are ignored and warped as Cora wends her way North from station to station, as she's on the run from master slave catcher Ridgeway, hot on her trail.This could've been a mess, but Whitehead, with an appropriate modicum of restraint, keeps things lively and sharp without becoming farcical and steam-punky. The transitions from the plantation to the various stations north are seamless (though a less-talented author probably wouldn't have been able to pull it off.) I deducted a star for a few poky bits midway through, but I was consistently entranced by Colson Whitehead's vision and audacity here. With Oprah's aegis, this novel hopefully will bring Whitehead some well-earned (and overdue) recognition.
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  • Taryn
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 Stars. Cora is a slave on the Randall plantation, the place where she was born and where her grandmother and mother were also slaves. Caesar, a new arrival on the property, offers her an opportunity to accompany him on the Underground Railroad, but she is hesitant. When leadership on the plantation changes hands and Cora's circumstances get even worse, she decides to take a chance and flee with Caesar. Not one to let his property get away, Terrance Randall sends a determined slave catcher a 3.5 Stars. Cora is a slave on the Randall plantation, the place where she was born and where her grandmother and mother were also slaves. Caesar, a new arrival on the property, offers her an opportunity to accompany him on the Underground Railroad, but she is hesitant. When leadership on the plantation changes hands and Cora's circumstances get even worse, she decides to take a chance and flee with Caesar. Not one to let his property get away, Terrance Randall sends a determined slave catcher after the duo. As Cora and Caeser embark on a horrifying journey through the heart of America in search of freedom, the dangers of being caught are always at the forefront of their minds. “If you want to see what this nation is all about, I always say, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America.” I try to avoid blurbs, so I thought this book was going to be straightforward historical fiction. It was so different than I expected and it defies classification! It isn't historical fiction in the traditional sense and it doesn't claim to be. The actual train running underground is the first clue that liberties will be taken with historical facts, although the horrors are all very real. It sometimes felt like Cora was traveling through time, as well as the country. This collapsed version of history made the message clearer than if the events been spread out over decades, similar to how an expressionist painting can be a more accurate representation of its subject than a more realistic portrayal. The almost fantastic nature of the story made me feel unstuck in time*, which made it easier to apply the message broadly and prevented me from compartmentalizing it as the distant past. Truth was a changing display in a shop window, manipulated by hands when you weren’t looking, alluring and ever out of reach. It's impossible to know Cora's actual age, but she thinks she is around sixteen or seventeen. Her mother ran away when she was a child and she resents being left behind to fend for herself. She's emotionally restrained from the abuse she has endured from both slave owners and fellow slaves. The one thing Cora "owns" is "a plot three yards square and the hearty stuff that sprouted from it." The plot was passed down to her mother from her grandmother and to Cora once her mother ran away. At one point another slave decides to challenge her ownership of that small piece of land. I fell in love with Cora the moment she challenged that grown man in order to protect the only thing she had to call her own. After Cora escapes the plantation, her journey leads her through multiple states. Each state has its own culture and it was interesting to experience the worlds Whitehead created. At the beginning of each leg of Cora's journey is an actual runaway slave advertisement. I was confused by those until the end, because I wasn't sure how they tied into Cora's story. (This might be a Kindle-only problem!) While they are all affecting, the last one is especially poignant. The state sections are also separated by short chapters revealing the backstories and motivations of some of the characters Cora encounters, including her grandmother, the slave catcher and a South Carolina doctor. One of the things that struck me most in those chapters (that I can mention), is how the bodies of those who were enslaved were pilfered even after their deaths. The character chapters were interesting, but they were my least favorite part. I wanted to get back to Cora! Why had they believed that two lowly slaves deserved the bounty of South Carolina? That a new life existed so close, just over the state line? It was still the south, and the devil had long nimble fingers. And then, after all the world had taught them, not to recognize chains when they were snapped to their wrists and ankles. The South Carolina chains were of new manufacture—the keys and tumblers marked by regional design—but accomplished the purpose of chains. They had not traveled very far at all. South Carolina was my favorite section because it reminded me so much of the dystopian speculative fiction that I like to read.  South Carolina seems significantly better than what Cora just escaped from, but something isn't right. As Cora reveals more about the community, it appears that much of their independence is an illusion. Cora's strange job assignment is a highlight of this section. Sterilization and medical experimentation popped up decades before I would have expected, but the juxtaposition of those events with the physical chains that Cora just escaped was very effective. The weak link—she liked the ring of it. To seek the imperfection in the chain that keeps you in bondage. Taken individually, the link was not much. But in concert with its fellows, a mighty iron that subjugated millions despite its weakness. The people she chose, young and old, from the rich part of town or the more modest streets, did not individually persecute Cora. As a community, they were shackles. If she kept at it, chipping away at weak links wherever she found them, it might add up to something. I was most engaged with the story when I was at Cora's side. About halfway through, it started to lose its emotional grip on me. In North Carolina and Tennessee, Cora became mostly an observer. Those chapters felt long to me, even though they were interesting and important. There were more character introductions that read like dry biographical accounts. Sometimes the order in which events were revealed made me feel disoriented. For example, I felt thrown into the Indiana setting at 77%. At 84%, the timeline between Tennessee and Indiana is finally explained. That doesn't seem like very long to wait, but I had all these nagging questions that kept me from focusing until I got those answers. A similar thing happened in South Carolina, though not as pronounced. Even though I had issues with those sections, there were still so many powerful and memorable parts: Cora watching community events through the hole in the attic, Freedom Trail, the desolation. a scene reminiscent of the Tulsa Race Riot (though that certainly isn't the only one). The aforementioned scenes would have been right at home in a horror novel. What a world it is, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation, she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand. While it didn't always engage my heart, it did engage my brain. What is freedom? Are you free if you lose your chains, but your actions are still bound by the ruling majority? Are you free if your pursuit of liberty and happiness is always under threat by fearful neighbors? Why should someone have to forgo their rights for the majority's psychological comfort? To what extent are we trapped into our roles by systems beyond our control? How far do you have to get from injustices before they can be put behind you? A notion crept over her like a shadow: that this station was not the start of the line but its terminus. Construction hadn’t started beneath the house but at the other end of the black hole. As if in the world there were no places to escape to, only places to flee. The Underground Railroad shines a light on the tensions and distrust that we still experience today. It questions the notion of freedom and attempts to hold a mirror up to the "true face of America." The writing was emotionally distancing for me, but it was thought provoking and a unique take on the subject. It won't do you any favors on a history exam, but it goes much deeper than that. I finished the book wanting to read everything Colson Whitehead has ever written! If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America. It was a joke, then, from the start. There was only darkness outside the windows on her journeys, and only ever would be darkness. If you liked this book, you might want to try:• Gulliver's Travels - Mentioned in the story and the editor's letter.• Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man - It has been a long time since I read it, but I remember it feeling authentic and strange at the same time.• We Love You, Charlie Freeman  - It's primarily contemporary and has a more young adult feel, but it also shares many themes. I was reminded of Nymphadora, Dr. Gardner, and Miss Toneybee-Leroy many times!• The Retrieval - (Netflix) Time period, tough choices. “We can’t save everyone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. Sometimes a useful delusion is better than a useless truth. Nothing’s going to grow in this mean cold, but we can still have flowers." ________________________I received this book for free from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review. This book was scheduled to come out in September, but it's actually out NOW! *Kurt Vonnegut quote
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    The Underground Railroad was the group book for #DiverseAthon, which was held from the 22nd to the 29th of January 2017!This important and very needed readathon is being hosted by Christina Marie from Christina Marie, Joce from squibblesreads, Simon from SavidgeReads, Monica from shemightbemonica, Mara from BookMarauder, and Naz from Read Diverse Books! “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes--believes with all its heart--that it is their right to take The Underground Railroad was the group book for #DiverseAthon, which was held from the 22nd to the 29th of January 2017!This important and very needed readathon is being hosted by Christina Marie from Christina Marie, Joce from squibblesreads, Simon from SavidgeReads, Monica from shemightbemonica, Mara from BookMarauder, and Naz from Read Diverse Books! “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes--believes with all its heart--that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.” This powerful and moving story starts out by introducing us to a woman named Ajarry, who was uprooted and stolen from West Africa and sold into American slavery. Later, she has a daughter named Mabel who is somewhat famous for being a successful runaway slave, but the victory is heavy on the heart, because she left behind her own daughter, Cora. The story's main protagonist is Cora, and we follow her through an actual underground railroad, not metaphorical. Every stop Cora makes feels like a brand new world, but the fear of being caught never truly subsides. Trigger warnings: graphic violence, abuse, and rape. And MILD/MINIMUM SPOILER WARNING: nothing major, but please use caution before reading if you'd like to go into this story completely blank! “Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood.” Georgia - This is where Cora starts her life. She is dealing with a broken heart from abandonment, and unwilling to get close to anyone. We get to see, first hand, how truly terrible slavery is and how some scars don't leave a mark. Others get many, many, cruel and unjust marks. This is truly the most heartbreaking of all the places Cora lives. The Randall Plantation is a place of nightmares, and I hope that everyone reading this story realizes that this was an actual reality in our country for so many. Thankfully, another slave named Caesar asks Cora to run away with him, because people believe that Cora is a good luck charm because of her mother's successful getaway.South Carolina - This is the first stop with Caesar, and the first time Cora is lulled into a false sense of security. Sadly, not all of the blacks are treated as well as Cora was. We are also introduced to a slave catcher named Ridgeway, and Cora is forced to run, but this time by herself. North Carolina - This time Cora is by herself when she is taken in by a couple that is very scared that they will eventually be caught housing slaves. Martin and Ethel Wells make Cora's time with them feel like a prison, until Ridgeway finds her again.Tennessee - Ridgeway takes Cora here, because he has another slave to catch. Cora finds out that slave owners and catchers care a great deal about the message of bringing a slave back to their owner/plantation, because it relays a message to other slaves and diminishes their hopes of running away, where Cora's mom gave very many slaves hope. Cora ends up fleeing with a man named Royal.Indiana - This is the best place Cora has named a home. She is living on the Valentine's farm with a large number of escaped slaves that are just trying to make a new life for themselves. Cora shares a house with a mother and a young daughter who she grows very attached to. Cora also allows herself to fall in love and begins healing from the years of abuse, trauma, and fear she has had to live. Cora, also, falls in love with reading and education, and I felt such happiness and hope for her. But as we learned from South Carolina, it is dangerous to ever feel safe as a runaway slave, even if your plantation owner has died. Cora is again forced to flee, this time leaving many pieces of her heart behind. The next, and second to last, chapter of this book is in Cora's mother's point of view. It was heartbreaking, and I could barely read with the tears that were constantly blocking my vision. If this book ended on this chapter it would have been an easy five stars. My heart breaks for Ajarry, Mabel, Cora, and every single family that has been impacted by the horrible violence and violations from slavery. Also, the prose and metaphors in this book are truly in a league of their own. Colson Whitehead has crafted such a unique and important book, and his talent seeps through and onto the pages. I will recommend this to everyone and anyone. But I truly disliked the last chapter of this book. I'm not saying that every book needs a happy ending, but I'm not the biggest fan of open ended endings. From being such an impactful and meaningful story to then juxtaposing a bland and open-ended ending just felt wrong. I could completely be in the minority with this feeling, but I've been thinking about this ending for a couple days and it upsets me every time.Blog | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Youtube | Twitch
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