"The Underground Railroad", by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad: A Novel - Colson Whitehead

This is a moving and wildly inventive tale that shines a light on a very dark period of American history and tells how networks of black and white helped slaves escape to freedom decades before the Civil War.

The story chronicles the life of a teenage slave named Cora as she flees the Georgia plantation risking everything. Traveling Cora tried to elude bounty hunters, informers and lynch mobs with the help of a few railroad workers who were willing to risk their lives.

The novel jumps around in time and space and is quite fractured with interludes portraying other characters such as her friend Caesar and Ridgeway, the bounty hunter. The narrative is plain yet smoothly conveys the horrors of slavery: fear, humiliation, brutality and the loss of dignity. The author never flinches in portraying the worst of the slaves’ experiences even salting words with a racist undertone (nigger). The characters use the language of the period: examples: pickaninny and buck. I must admit it took some time to get used to this.

“The Underground Railroad” is an uneven book with great passages and some no so believable (railroad and tunnel scenes). It is great when it tells the story yet loses spunk when the imagination seems to be in over-drive. Although we have compelling snapshots of the life during that time, it missed the mark emotionally with a characterization that is simply underdeveloped…they seemed such a bunch of blah players…. This is a good book but I admit to have read far better and more captivating novels on slavery in America.

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Synopsis from the Pulitzer Prices site:

“For a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”