Book Review – The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Book: Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Year of Release: 2016
Read 310-page hardcover edition in February 2017.
Cora is a young slave on cotton plantation in Georgia. When she meets a slave by the name of Caesar, she finds an opportunity to escape the horrible conditions she lives with daily. This leads her to discovering the underground railroad, which in this world is a literal rail system built underneath the ground to provide a means of escape for black slaves to the north or west.
However, when Cora’s old slaveowner begins sending bounty hunters after her, Cora must continue escaping dangerous situations, and learn more about the dangers of prejudice and racism that exist in different states along the way.
A really strong novel is one that makes the reader think and keep thinking, even long after reading the final page. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is one such novel.
The author has done a tremendous job at bringing to life a treacherous, tragic truth of human history. The journey of Cora, as she tries to escape a cotton plantation to find freedom, and further escape other tortures along the way, brings to life the horror of slavery.
The author has a large cast of characters around Cora, some other slaves, some trying to help with the underground railroad, and some very wicked villains. By bringing the various characters together, the author succeeds in telling a story from a variety of angles, and really drilling home the true horror and crime of slavery in America.
The author also expands the story canvass and succeeds in painting the ugly case of how the American Indigenous population was slaughtered as European colonists and then Americans took the land from Indigenous people while decimating the population.
Further, the author’s ability to weave fictional elements into the novel, starting with historical fact but then using the concept of a real underground railroad, made for a unique and interesting reading experience. The reader was left wanting to know where the railroad would take Cora next, and what the different states would be like.
The writing style also assisted in making this a fast read. The language was powerful, moving, and disturbing, which created a poignant plot that also told dark truths about slavery.
The author had a real knack for using language to say powerful lines, and there were many powerful quotes from the novel, for example this scene when Cora was acting as a black slave scrubbing the deck of a ship coming to America:
“There had been no kidnapped boys swabbing the decks and earning pats on the head from white kidnappers. The enterprising African boy whose fine leather boots she wore would have been chained belowdecks, swabbing his body in his own filth. … nobody wanted to speak on the true disposition of the world. And no one wanted to hear it. Certainly not the white monsters on the other side of the exhibit at that very moment, pushing their greasy snouts against the window, sneering and hooting.” (Page 116.)
Another example of powerful learning and language: “The land she tilled and worked had been Indian land. She knew the white men bragged about the efficiency of the massacres, where they killed women and babies, and strangled their futures in the crib. Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood.” (Page 117.)
In conclusion, this amazing novel is highly recommended for all to read, especially in this day of uncreased racism and prejudice, where we need to be reminded of the damage, danger, and disgusting places humanity has been, and ensure we continually try to move forward, and not go backward.
Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars