Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: The Underground Railroad

Cora is a woman enslaved to a Georgian cotton farmer. Her life is awful and brutal, as she faces isolation in addition to the horrors and indignities of slavery. But a new arrival to the plantation takes an interest in her and invites her to escape with him. Caesar and Cora decide to take the Underground Railroad. But in Colson Whitehead's imagining, the Railroad is not a code word but an actual train line that runs from slave states to freedom. But just escaping from their master and making it onto a train will not be enough. A slave catcher is tracking them and even the seemingly safe Northern cities hold new dangers for them.

The Underground Railroad was the 'it' book of 2016. Oprah started her book club again to endorse it, it won the National Book Award, and it seemed to be on the lips of every person who talks books. If you haven't read the book yet, rest assured that it deserves every bit of the praise. Colson Whitehead is an immensely talented writer and he manages to strike the perfect balance of brutally reporting the horrors of slavery while compelling you to continue reading.

One of the most powerful aspects of this book for me was the relentlessness that Whitehead portrays. In so many stories about slavery, it seems like a clean escape is the end of the story. Once a slave had escaped to the North, they were free. But of course it wasn't that simple. History is compressed in this novel, so the reader experiences new and terrible ways that white people oppressed and took advantage of black people throughout history.

This is a book everyone should read to experience a great modern author, to remember the horrors of slavery, and to join the conversation around this fascinating story. 

The Underground Railroad
By Colson Whitehead
Doubleday Books August 2016
306 pages
Read via Netgalley


  1. I've been shying away from this book simply because it was the "it book". (I'm a rebel, what can I say?) But it does sound really good, and I'm glad to hear you think it lives up to the hype. I might give it a chance after all! :)

  2. Great review. I'm also glad to hear you think this book deserves the praise it's received. It's on my TBR list.

  3. This definitely sounds like a book I should pick up. I'm a little nervous about how brutal the descriptions of slavery will be though and that's making me slower to get to it than I might be otherwise.