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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead

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This book was so good I ended up taking it to work and even reading the ending at red lights! The characters were amazing, although at times I got confused with the names. I thought the concept of a literal Underground Railroad was really unique and added a really interesting plot line and metaphor. The organizational style of the chapters was really interesting as well. The truth (and fate) of Mabel... and Royal, Caesar and Lovey, and all the conductors were truly heartbreaking but helped make the impact and truth behind the fictional story. A book that should be praised and read in our current state. As Americans we must be mindful of the institutionalized racism and horrors that rock our country's past. We must strive everyday to speak against injustice and continue to claw our way through the darkness, just like Cora. ( )
  missbrandysue | Mar 27, 2017 |
In the beginning, I loved this book. Brilliant, I said. Word choices, absolutely spot-on. I imagine the description of slave life to be extremely realistic. BUT THEN. Why oh why oh why did the author take such liberties with history? For example, the Underground Railroad was described as an actual subterranean railroad. The book, classified as historical fiction on Amazon, read as such until the “railroad” took on characteristics similar to the Night Bus in J. K. Rowling’s world. By the time this happened, I had become completely mesmerized by the story and main characters, Cora and Caesar. So I felt like a rug had been pulled from beneath me. Wasn’t the true history of the underground railroad compelling enough without making it fantastical? This and other historical inaccuracies could be extremely confusing to someone who doesn’t know American history. At one point, it made me question my own. ( )
  TBoerner | Mar 22, 2017 |
First, slavery stories should never stop being told, as it still ripples throughout history and will continue, sadly enough/ Whitehead's narrative almost seemed derived from many different stories, or maybe I have just read so many. It reminds me of 'Someone Knows My Name' by Lawrence Hill that I think deserves more notice. This narrative is mostly about the young slave Cora and her many stops along the actual underground railroad. Gulliver's Travels seems like a touchstone, and this book is the slavery version. Cora's scenarios are different in every state, but no matter what the intention of the people in that state, it still seems like their intent is the absolute destruction of the African American, even if they are being treated relatively better than in other states. Terribly sad, but Cora never loses her spirit, even with such a start that she thinks her mother abandons her. I feel like this book had to have more focus on only Cora and less pages or be more detailed and tell more of the other characters stories. Sometimes the other characters get a few pages from their point of view but a few pages isn't enough... either none or more. Homer should have definitely had a few pages, if not an entire book to himself. I suspect here is a case of high expectations not met. I expected magical things from this book. It's a great novel, but nothing I would call special. If a book wins an award, I expect a lot. Maybe the writing is too matter-of-fact for me to love it, but that way of writing is probably because of the absurdist set pieces and the themes almost fall over the cliff of dark satire. Being so far removed from slavery in 2017, it is tough to tell what is real and what is just touching on subtle satire. But the reality of the history of slavery seems like satire itself. ( )
  booklove2 | Mar 13, 2017 |
2016, Random House Audio, Read by Bahni Turpin

“And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.”

Cora is a third-generation slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Her grandmother, Ajarry, was stolen into slavery from Africa; and she and her mother, Mabel, were born into hell in the southern US. Ajarry is gone now, and Mabel escaped – and was never found – many years before. Cora knows that as she approaches womanhood, her hellish existence is about to become yet more monstrous. With Caesar, a young slave recently come to Georgia from Virginia, she plans her own terrifying run for freedom. But plans go awry almost immediately when Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. She and Caesar manage to find a “railway station” and head north, but they are hunted relentlessly by the demonic slave-catcher, Ridgeway.

The underground railroad is no mere metaphor here – Whithead has created a network of tracks beneath southern soil, on which engineers and conductors ferry escaped slaves. For me, this “ingenious conception” (publisher) is the novel’s weak spot. I could not connect the gravity of slavery and its horrors with a fantastical train, one of whose “engineers” was a child. Apparently, alternate history is not my thing.

The tenacity of The Underground Railroad lies in Whitehead’s portrayal of the legacy of slavery, spanning not only the generations of citizens that worked as slaves – but reaching into present day with a toxicity that continues to haunt US society. I think of the shameful regularity with which white police officers headline current news for shooting and killing unarmed black citizens. “As the years pass … racial violence only becomes more vicious in its expression. It will not abate or disappear, not anytime soon, and not in the south.”

Definitely a worthwhile read. Bahni Turpin is narrator-extraordinaire. ( )
1 vote lit_chick | Mar 12, 2017 |
This was my final read for Black History Month and I very much enjoyed it from a writer's point of view. It's an imaginative telling of the Underground Railroad in an alternative history where the Railroad is literally a railroad in a series of underground tunnels honeycombing the South. Whitehead takes his readers on a journey with his main character Cora as she escapes a Georgia plantation and her adventures at various "stations" along the way. He occasionally slips in a chapter from another character's POV, so we get a well-rounded look at this world. One of the genius moves of the book is that although it's filled with the usual horrors of slavery, it feels a bit soft-focused because it's set in a fantasy world. However, it is still filled with all the usual horrors of slavery. I think that next year, I'm going to look for more uplifting stories. ( )
  MarysGirl | Mar 11, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
Een van de erfenissen van oud-president Barack Obama is de lof die hij gaf voor de roman van Colson Whitehead – De ondergrondse spoorweg nadat hij het boek in de zomer van 2016 gelezen had. De roman over het slavernijverleden van de Verenigde Staten kon trouwens toch al op veel lovende kritieken en woorden rekenen. En dat is volkomen terecht. De ondergrondse spoorweg is een rijke en briljant geschreven roman over het slavernijverleden van de Verenigde Staten en het racisme met veel verwijzingen naar de hedendaagse Amerikaanse samenleving...lees verder >
In a sense, “The Underground Railroad” is Whitehead’s own attempt at getting things right, not by telling us what we already know but by vindicating the powers of fiction to interpret the world. In its exploration of the foundational sins of America, it is a brave and necessary book.

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