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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,7382502,022 (4.06)486
Recently added byprivate library, BookKnight, gsides78, Katie_Roscher, Newaz_Ahmed, Megha17, nldowney, eNotesOffice
  1. 41
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (shaunie)
    shaunie: Morrison's masterpiece is a clear influence on Whitehead's book, and his is one of the very few I've read which bears comparison with it. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's also a masterpiece, a stunningly good read!
  2. 20
    Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (elenchus)
    elenchus: That popular culture phenomenon of the uncanny twins, two works appearing together yet unrelated in authorship, production, inspiration. Why do they appear together? In this case, each is compelling enough to read based on their own, but for me irresistable now they've shown up onstage at the same time. Ben Winters's Underground Airlines a bizarro underground railroad, updated (for reasons left implicit) for air travel; Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad making the escape trail a concrete reality. Each also addresses our world, in between stations.… (more)
  3. 10
    Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (vwinsloe)
    vwinsloe: Both books use a magical means of transportation to illuminate the plight of refugees (runaway slaves in one and immigrants in the other.)
  4. 00
    The Known World by Edward P. Jones (lottpoet)
  5. 01
    Steal Away Home: One Woman's Epic Flight to Freedom - And Her Long Road Back to the South by Karolyn Smardz Frost (figsfromthistle)
  6. 01
    The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Disturbing Alternate Histories of America.

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» See also 486 mentions

English (235)  Spanish (4)  German (3)  Dutch (1)  Piratical (1)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (248)
Showing 1-5 of 235 (next | show all)
Rare instance of the hype actually being true. This is a wonderful and eloquent novel, truly one of the best in fiction published this year. ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
This is the story of a slave named Cora. Cora is a young woman working on a cotton plantation in the south. Her life is hard and her master is brutal. One night, a fellow slave comes to her, and asks her to escape with him on the Underground Railroad. She agrees. They get as far as South Carolina where she spends 10 months before she is discovered and turned in. On her return to the south, a group of freed slaves come upon her captors and free her. She goes to Indiana to a farm to work as a freed slave. Unfortunately, this farm is burned and she is on the run again - looking for a place where she can finally be free of hatred.

This book was.....fine. I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. There were many many parts that I enjoyed. It is gut wrenching what the slaves had to endure. Just sickening. But the book overall was a mass of confusion. I had a hard time following it. There were many sections of the book that had minor characters that didn't add to the story - just added more confusion. And I know this is historical fiction, but an Underground Railroad that was actually a railroad? With a train? Come on. It takes away, in my opinion, what the underground railroad really was and how it worked. People certainly didn't move quickly to escape slavery, and this author made it out to be a fast moving train that got people out quickly.

I have a hard time recommending it, and a hard time not. I think there is enough information about slavery that, especially in today's climate, would be important to shed light on. If you can look past the utterly fictional parts of this book, then you might enjoy it. ( )
  JenMat | Jan 10, 2019 |
The writing was disjointed. Too many minor characters who were not developed. Where did the grave robber fit into the story? And having the Underground Railroad be an actual railroad was just too far-fetched. ( )
  haysx5 | Dec 12, 2018 |
Years ago, I read the first chapter of Whitehead’s novel The Intuitionist as a preview and was intrigued—but I never followed up. Finally, years later, I have read one of his books. I am still intrigued. First, let’s get the simple stuff out of the way. As a stylist, Whitehead is superb. This is not to say that the whole book reads like Steinbeck (or Raymond Chandler), but it just flows along, from image to image, with the occasional memorable passage that stands out, but doesn’t draw so much attention to itself that it makes the preceding words look like a mere lead-in. Whitehead is also very good at characterization, even for characters whose role in the novel is fleeting. Always, though, there is the ability for the reader to fill in a few blanks based on his or her own opinions of mankind.

Then there is the novel itself. The PULITZER PRIZE WINNING novel itself. And it is one of the oddest works of imagination I have ever read. It starts as a fairly conventional narration of the horrors of slavery, focusing on Cora, whose mother ran away from the Randall plantation when Cora was 10, leaving her a small vegetable patch and leading to Cora’s banishment to a sort of second-rate slave quarters—because even among slaves, there still has to be some sort of hierarchy. Soon, Caesar, a slave who was educated by his first master then denied his promised freedom at her death, asks her to escape the plantation with him. He figures if her mother got away, Cora will be a good luck charm.

And so they run, and the surrealistic, apocalyptic, downright strange part of The Underground Railroad begins. Because in Whitehead’s novel, it isn’t figurative. There actually is a railroad underground, hidden deep beneath a barn, for instance, with its long set of entrance steps well hidden. And at this point, I will stop narrating, because this is what you probably already know without having read the book. When Cora and Caesar end up in South Carolina, things enter into an alternate universe. And later chapters in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana are alternate universes of a different kind.

What is most notable about the book after its opening chapters, however, is how it stops becoming a continuous narrative and begins to jump around a bit, telling us things from the future and leaving long gaps to be filled in, briefly, later. I’m sure that somewhere Whitehead has explained his technique here. Someone wanting to be critical might wonder if he got a bit tired of filling in all the details and just wanted to make his points without writing a 600-page novel. If so, hurray for Whitehead.

I don’t think that was his intent, however. Because after the opening narrative ends, each chapter is a set piece with a clear point to make. There are, for instance, the radically different “solutions” South Carolina and North Carolina arrive at to deal with the presence of so many slaves in their midst—perhaps a majority of the population. Then there is the apocalyptic vision of Tennessee, which is spectacularly memorable. And Indiana, where Whitehead makes his final point about slavery—or perhaps about solidarity. Writing all of this as part of a much longer narrative, would have dulled the impact of these chapters. Again, I think Whitehead is respecting the reader’s intelligence by not filling in every point.

The overall effect of reading this book is one of wonder and of horror. The inhumanity of slavery has never been made clearer. Despite its flights of fancy, Whitehead’s book is solidly grounded in well-researched reality. His descriptions of the different mindsets between those who are born free and those slaves who become free, are memorable. The imprint of the chains remains. Somewhere in the book, there may also be a little bit of hope, at least in the spirit of some of the characters, black, white, and mixed. But given the present state of America, where racial hatreds still run so deep and are still stoked by demagogues, Whitehead’s novel much also stand as a warning. I am not religious—but is it too late for us to repent? ( )
  datrappert | Dec 7, 2018 |
I'm currently listening to this free audio version from BBC online. I'm about halfway through and it's interesting, but I don't know if audio is the best way for me to follow a book. I'm giving it a try.

Ok, so I enjoyed this, but I think it was probably overly abridged since it was reduced to 10 segments that were less than 14 minutes each. I think I would have liked reading the full book more, but it was short and free, so I can't complain. My rating is for this version only. ( )
  3njennn | Nov 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 235 (next | show all)
Der Roman des afroamerikanischen Autors Colson Whitehead über die Sklaverei in den USA des 19. Jahrhunderts kommt in deutscher Übersetzung nun gerade recht, um auf den heutigen Rassismus zu verweisen.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Colson Whiteheadprimary authorall editionscalculated
Testa, MartinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turpin, BahniNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.
. . . for justice may be slow and invisible, but it always renders its true verdict in the end.
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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.… (more)

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