The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

A Novel

Book - 2016
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Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their 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. And 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.-- from publisher's description.
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, [2016]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780385542364
0385542364
Branch Call Number: FICTION WHITEHE COLSON
Characteristics: 306 pages ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Underground railroad

Opinion

From Library Staff

After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South.

After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South.

After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South.


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Inga57
Oct 02, 2018

This could have been a good book, until it wasn’t. The first five chapters had my attention, then came North Carolina were the story fell apart. See, the book is fiction, giving the author free reign to write as he pleases; which the judges for the ‘National Book Awards’ as well as the judges for the ‘Pulitzer’ came to an agreement in 2016 and 2017, respectively, giving Colson Whitehead their highest honors, undeterred by obvious blunders.

Example: Cora, the main character, is a runaway slave. Martin, a white man, finds her in a closed section of the underground railroad and takes her home with him where he and his wife keep her hidden in their North Carolina attic. Martin makes nightly visits to Cora to explain ‘his predicament’ by hiding her in their home with lengthy explanations of the ‘immigration of white people, disappearance of black people, unpleasantries explained in newspapers, etc.’ This is where the book begins to crumble for me. It felt forced, an awkward way to include the details of a time. Honestly, I could never see a southern white man from 1850’s -or- from Colson’s book, go into such detail with a slave.

Martin’s attic seemed ‘conveniently’ inventoried by abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets for Cora’s reading, along with almanac’s and a Bible.

In Georgia, it is written that ‘The Southern white man was spat from the loins of the devil and there was no way to forecast his next evil act.’

By the time we reach Tennessee, Ridgeway, a slave catcher, buys Cora a dress, takes her out to supper, and begins to spill his guts, calling it ‘catch-each-other-up’ explaining the likes of ‘Manifest Destiny’ while Cora remains in chains. Her response? ‘I got to go to the toilet.’

At the Valentine Farm in Indiana, the free-black and runaway slaves gather to hear a man of mixed race speak. He tells them, “In some ways, the only thing we have in common is the color of your skin. Our ancestors came from all over the African continent. It’s quite large. They had different ways of subsistence, different customs, spoke a hundred different languages. And that great mixture was brought to America in the hold of slave ships. To the north, to the south. We are not one people but many different people, with a million desires and hopes and wishes for ourselves and our children.” And ‘THE GREAT WAR HAD ALWAYS BEEN BETWEEN THE WHITE AND THE BLACK. IT ALWAYS WOULD BE.’

Although the ending is abrupt, it couldn’t come soon enough for me.

Considering the other big winners in 2016 for the National Book Awards, there was an obvious theme: ‘Race in America.’ Obviously, Colson Whitehead wrote Underground Railroad at the right time to be included with the other three selections: http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2016.h...

If anyone would like to read an award-winning book about slavery and the underground railroad, I would recommend ‘The Good Lord Bird’ by James McBride © 2013. From the same year, ‘The Last Runaway’ by Tracy Chevalier.

l
latwell1
Aug 20, 2018

I couldn't put this book down. Riveting, engrossing read. I highly recommend it!

b
burner69
Aug 11, 2018

Underground Railroad is a great book and easy read. I will probably be put on my read again list!

I first would say first the character development is top notch. Given the number of characters, I was not expecting that all characters would be fully developed.

Underground Railroad is fiction, but still shows the evils of slavery, the slaves' dreams and actions to become free. The plantation dynamics were demonstrated by the actions of all the masters.

All and all I'd give it a solid 4/5.

RogerDeBlanck Jul 27, 2018

Whitehead's riveting novel immerses you in an adventure of survival unlike any other. Taking place in the antebellum south, the story focuses on Cora. Having reached the cusp of womanhood, she has been a slave on a large cotton plantation in Georgia. When she schemes with another slave named Caesar to flee the brutality of their daily lives, nothing can prepare them for the horrors that lie ahead. Whitehead confronts the inhumanity of slavery, and he shows us through the courage and resilience of Cora, Caesar, and a cast of other men and women in bondage that the human strength to survive can outlast even the most terrifying of circumstances.

As Cora sets out to attain her freedom, she finds help along the underground railroad. This route of travel can be reached from basements and cellars inside the cottages and barns of those risking their lives to assist runaways, or it can be found through the thick brush leading to caves in the countryside. The railroad constitutes no mere trail of waystations on the dangerous trek north to freedom. It is an actual train running through underground tunnels with rails stretching for hundreds of miles. The cleverness of Whitehead's imagination couples with his rich and blistering details to produce a story that is both overwhelmingly real and yet fantastical in its reach and scope.

While showing the physical cruelties of life under slavery, Whitehead also addresses the brainwashing and manipulation that were instituted to distort the truth and perpetuate other unspeakable atrocities. The novel's unsettling aspects are searing in their vividness, yet the heart-racing suspense bodes with the possibility of a hopeful outcome. Once Cora is distanced from the sickening reality of history, which Whitehead makes unforgettable, she has opportunity for a future. The Underground Railroad may break your heart, but it will leave you with the pieces if you what to put it back together.

w
WoodneathBrad
Jul 04, 2018

Cora, the main protagonist of this saga, is a third generation slave living on a plantation in antebellum Georgia. Having experienced atrocities from whites and blacks, she eventually decides to flee the plantation at the invitation of Caesar, a fellow slave who had been denied his promised freedom. Cora travels on a literal underground railroad to different states, and confronts obstacles at each one, experiencing a white separatist state in South Carolina, a white supremacist state in North Carolina, and a free black community in Indiana. All the while she is being tracked by Ridgeway, a ruthless slave-catcher. In a thought provoking narrative Whitehead offers vivid descriptions of the horrors of slavery and the racist ideologies that legitimated and sustained it. In providing insights into the thoughts and experiences of Cora and other slaves he also powerfully demonstrates how slavery has impacted the African American experience.

l
laphampeak
Mar 22, 2018

It's more than a story of slavery. The actual events may be scrutinized for accuracy of time and place but it prompts the reader to research and learn more. The underground railroad in the novel is not well developed but does take the reader to various states where each has its set of social ideals and views on slavery. What I feel stands to high acclaim is the many ideals of humanity and equality that Colson interjects through his characters.

a
agoldsby
Feb 26, 2018

This book surpassed my expectations and I felt incredibly satisfied at the end. Great writing. Colson Whitehead blew me away. This should be on everyone's book club reading list.

k
kantzuling
Feb 04, 2018

The writing style makes it hard to read.

liljables Jan 22, 2018

With all of the accolades this book has received, it was only a matter of time before I picked it up. The Underground Railroad surpassed my expectations - the fictionalized historical details that Whitehead wove into the narrative were both jarring and utterly believable. Whitehead has transformed the historical network of safehouses and allies that we know as the underground railroad into an actual system of trains and rails; this adds a fantastical element to a story that is otherwise very grounded. This novel is highly readable despite its grim content. If you enjoy epic historical sagas but are willing to suspend your disbelief to allow for modern social commentary, you've got to read The Underground Railroad.

r
rogebc_0
Oct 07, 2017

After going to the Pen and Podium Book Club discussion and then hearing Colson Whitehead talk about and read this book, I began to understand my struggle with it. It is very difficult, unrelenting and painful to read - and that is the experience of enslavement. It is also atypical in its use of fantasy mingled with fact - many of us know a lot about this period of history and the actual "underground railroad" and so it is jarring when that is used as a metaphor, with actual trains and tunnels and stops. Also with the depiction of the North Carolina "trail of tears" and other unreal elements woven into the story. We forgive this and are even enchanted by it when it involves a culture foreign to us - the "magic realism" of Latino writers, for instance. But it is more challenging in our own culture. The confusion made me stop and think and experience something about the enslavement of people in my own history and culture in a way that reading other novels of the era have not done. After a difficult journey with the book, I appreciate it deeply.

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CMLibrary_gjd_0 Jun 13, 2017

pg 52 "The southern white man was spat from the loins of the devil and there was no way to forecast his next evil act."
pg 116 "Truth was a changing display in a shop window, manipulated by hands when you weren't looking, alluring and ever out of reach."
pg 175 Donald thought....."Chattel slavery was an affront to God, and slavers an aspect of Satan."
pg 214 "Time enough for Cora to take stock of her journey from Randall and make a thick braid of her misfortunes."
pg 224 Ridgeway says..."You heard my name when you were a pickaninny...The name of punishment, dogging every fugitive step and every thought of running away."
pg 234 "One thing about the south, it was not patient when it came to killing negroes."

c
cknightkc
Dec 08, 2016

"Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man's equal." - page 139

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cknightkc
Dec 08, 2016

"Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man." - page 182

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m0mmyl00
Apr 04, 2017

It was worth waiting four months for The Underground Railroad to become available. Once I got it, I finished it in two or three days. Mable was kidnapped from Africa and taken to Georgia, where she was made to be a slave. She had a daughter, Cora, who is the main character of the book. Mable ran away, and was never heard from again, much to the sadness and anger of her young daughter Cora. The daily fears, indignities, and brutalities of life as a slave were described, as were the gamut of relationships among the slaves. Cora ran away, was caught, ran away again, let her guard down and was again caught, and again ran away. She was helped along the way by kind people of both races, some who accepted the danger they put themselves in and some who didn't but couldn't just do nothing. There was much, much sadness and I found myself hoping it was more fiction than historical fiction.

SPL_Heather Nov 07, 2016

Cora is a young woman living on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Her mother had escaped years ago and Cora carries the feelings of abandonment and resentment with her still. Life is harsh for the slaves but particularly for Cora as she is ostracized even from her fellow Africans. When she is offered the chance to escape on the Underground Railroad, she initially refuses. It is only after a brutal beating from the plantation owner, and promises of more to come, that Cora takes the opportunity to escape via the Railroad. During the escape, a man is killed, and the bounty on her head grows exponentially. As she travels from state to state, Cora experiences new horrors and moves closer to the North while being pursued by the relentless slave catcher Ridgeway. Along Cora’s journey we meet abolitionists, opportunists, and hypocrites who all play a role in the road to freedom.

In this coming of age tale, author Colson Whitehead envisions the Underground Railroad not as a metaphor, but as a real underground train network with conductors and station agents. This does nothing to take away from the very human experiences Cora lives through in this alternative history tale.

This book functions as a meditation on slavery during pre-civil war America. Cora’s journey to freedom takes her to different states, which allows Whitehead to describe the many horrors of slavery. In one state, Cora is treated well and given lodgings and a job but there are dark secrets hidden beneath the shiny exterior. In subsequent states, we see various other terrors including hangings, corpse trails, and mobs. While Whitehead reimagines these into a single narrative, the experiences he describes did occur in America’s history and it’s important that they are remembered.

The characterization in this latest selection in Oprah’s book club is also excellent. The various characters are fully realized people with backgrounds and emotions. In this way, we as readers have larger insight into the slave owners and slave catchers and what their motivations were and how they played the roles that they did in history.

Author Colson Whitehead is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and bestselling author. He employs his skills to craft a page turner of an historical novel. The chapters mostly come from Cora’s perspective, but interspersed are chapters from the perspective of other characters. The result is a novel with enormous depth and lush descriptions while still being highly readable.

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latwell1
Aug 20, 2018

latwell1 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

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