A bold and powerful novel that will capture your heart.
The Underground Railroad is a story not just of Cora and her journey out of slavery but the tale of slavery itself, its impact on today’s America and a heart breaking read. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, and they plot their escape. Matters do not go as planned – Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her – but they manage to find a station and head north.
What Did I Think of The Underground Railroad?
It might seem a contradiction to say “I loved this book” as there is a lot of violence, brutality and sadness in it. But Whitehead is a wonderful storyteller and his writing is fresh and engaging. I was engrossed with this powerful, bold novel that stays with you long after you’ve finished.
Each chapter begins with an advert for a runway. A reminder of who owned who and that blacks were regarded as a commodity by the plantation owners. Cora and Caesar’s journey of escape begins in the dead of night and it is in scenes like this that Whitehead’s writing is brilliantly evocative. They are using the Underground Railroad system to move from state to state. This was part of a larger unofficial and loosely connected group of individuals who helped and facilitated the escape of runaway slaves from the Southern United States
At times the book reads like a thriller as Cora and Caesar are pursued across the marshlands and swamps by Ridgeway. He is a notorious brutal and vicious slave hunter known to and feared by Cora and Caesar. For Ridgeway his reputation as the best slave catcher is at stake and despite losing them from time to time he never gives up.
At each stop on the railroad they encounter a different life as if they drop into another scene in pre-civil war America. Whitehead uses these scenes to depict the horrific life of slaves in America to brilliant effect and raise issues. When Cora makes it to a town without slavery she feels she could build a life there. She changes her name to Bessie and settles in, only for that life to dramatically change forever.
Whitehead addresses a number of issues in the book, experiments on blacks, slavery, using blacks as live museum exhibits and the loss of Black History and identity in a way that’s painful to read at times. He captures the arrogance of the “white man” and how they know better, sadly a trait that continues to exist today.
I urge you to read it.