Underground Railroad: Two slaves flee the south using an actual underground railroad.
This engrossing book is the story of Cora and Caesar's journey - though it primarily focuses on Cora as she tries to escape her horrific life of slavery. The twist to this story is that the underground railroad is an actual functional railroad - under the ground. A little magical realism in play - and I like the way it was handled.
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Genre: Historical Fiction
Awards: Pulitzer, National Book Award
Published 2016, 306 pages
I read this a while ago so some of the details are foggy, but the strength of the story and my memories of the novelty of an actual railroad convinced me this review, though short, is worth sharing. The writing style is simple, the emotions sometimes heartbreaking.
"What a world, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close, but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand. -"
It's another book where the horrors of slavery are at the forefront of the book. It is mainly Cora's story though there are some interesting side stories as well. For example, Caesar is the slave who eventually convinces Cora to run and that running starts off with a major disaster. Also, Cora is chased throughout the novel by a ruthless slave hunter which makes her freedom in the north not really quite free. Both interesting, but not deeply developed characters.
If you enjoy this theme or stories with some magical realism, you might look at The Underground Airlines (my review) - similar story framework about slavery and some magical realism, but the structure of the story is very different.
I thought this a very good book and definitely worth your time. Have you read it or anything else by Colson Whitehead? His new Nickel Boys is out - have you read that? Let me know in the comments.
Photos by Terrie Purkey