78. The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 6.49.07 PMThe Underground Railroad is an impactful tale of a slave’s dramatic escape from abuse through the underground railroad which has been heavily promoted as one of Oprah’s picks for her popular book club.  Despite my plan for a lighter read after finishing both Night  and Homegoing, my husband came home with 7-day “red-hot read” copy from the library which I could not put down.   Both The Underground Railway and Homegoing were reminiscent of Roots by Arthur Haley, describing the horrors of slavery and leaving the reader shocked by the depravity of slave masters.  Although it is essential to understand this history, many of the gruesome descriptions have left disturbing pictures in my mind.

The story begins with Cora who is a young slave born onto a cotton plantation in Georgia.  Her Master, who was the kinder of two brothers, dies bequeathing his land and slaves to his cruel brother.  Cora’s mother had escaped, leaving the young girl outcast among the fellow slaves.  When Cora bravely intervenes when a young boy is beaten for being clumsy, she is cruelly whipped and reconsiders an offer for escape.  This begins her dramatic journey North.

The railroad in the story was described with the locomotion of train cars yet it truly was a network of tunnels, safe houses and kindhearted individuals risking their safety for the freedom of the slaves.  At each railroad stop, Cora experienced challenges and abuse as she outran the slave catcher. He was hungry for a large reward which had been set by the Georgian master who was waiting to torture her upon her capture.

The novel is broken into chapters, some that describe the stories of individuals and others that outline Cora’s experiences in different states beginning in Georgia, travelling though South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana and ending the “The North”.  Both the evil slave catcher and her memories of abuse and terror chased her North as she dealt with loss and guilt over the consequences for individuals that helped her during her escape.

Oprah said “After turning the final page, I knew immediately I’d read something that would never leave me” which was the impetus for selecting this book for her massive book club.  It is a book, like Roots that will brand certain pictures in the readers mind and an important history to be shared.  Although I had never heard of Colson Whitehead previous to this novel, he has written 6 previous novels and a collection of essays.  He has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and lives in New York.

The book was hard to put down, in part because it was an engaging story, much like a train wreck that is hard to look away from, and also because of the timeline for returning it to the library.  The descriptions are vivid and although it can be graphic, it is important for all to understand the history of slavery and the long-lasting impacts of the past.  Oprah’s midas touch is sure to make this a bestseller!

If you are looking for more details on this author and his writing experience, here is an interesting article from Macleans:  Colson Whitehead on Reimagining America’s history of racism.

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3 Responses to 78. The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

  1. I cannot wait to read this one! I even received an ARC of this one, but have yet to get to it. I definitely want to get to this one before the end of the year. Great review as per usual 🙂

    Like

  2. Pingback: 17. 12 Years a Slave (Solomon Northup) | A Year of Books

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