Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Pub Date: August 2016
My Rating: ★★★★☆
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Synopsis from Goodreads:
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish 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 and, 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. 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.
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.
A lot was written about The Underground Railroad, it was Oprah’s Book Club selection, made it onto the list of Barack Obama’s favourite books and author won many awards for this book, including Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Award. I finally read this book and I can appreciate and truly understand why so much was written about it. It’s an excellent book, and to be honest I can’t formulate my opinion on this book in an easy way. Because of the tough topic of the book, it’s extremely hard for me to write a review on it, I’m not well equipped to write about horrors and hardships that are hard for me to image and understand and just cannot translate to any hardships in my life.
When it comes to books that cause tumultuous emotions in me, there are books that are hard to read because they hit close to home, and there are books like this, with such horrible crimes that aren’t personal, but are just so devastating to read about and to image.
The main character, Cora is not fully developed character, we never learn much about her. We learn about her experiences, what she goes though, but her inner life is never truly show. I think this is a clever play on the slavery narrative, on how the experiences define the character, how Cora never has a chance to live freely and actually have a serious chance on experiencing new and enjoyable things in life. America is preventing her from being a free person, so we also never really get a fully developed character. As a reader, I become a witness to all the horrors and little joys of the story, witness who’s detached from the story, who can just see what’s happening but can never truly understand the characters. I never connected to the characters, but I didn’t need that connection to care about them.
The idea behind the underground railroad it interesting, the concept of an actual railroad is fascinating and I wish we were given some history behind the railroad. Like Cora, I wish we got to learn how it was built.