The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

A Novel

Book - 2016 | First edition
Average Rating:
Rate this:
82
4
3
 …
The Newest Oprah Book Club 2016 Selection
 
From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood--where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned--Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
     In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor--engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's 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.
     Like the protagonist of  Gulliver's Travels,  Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey--hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.  The Underground Railroad  is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Publisher: New York :, Doubleday,, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385542364
Branch Call Number: FIC Whit
Characteristics: 306 pages ; 25 cm

Opinion

From the critics


Community Activity

Comment

Add a Comment
m
maipenrai
Feb 23, 2020

The underground railroad was an important historical means of helping escaped slaves reach the North and freedom. It saved lives!! It was undertaken by people who risked their own lives because they hated slavery. To turn it into some sort of mythical fantasy world where there is an actual railroad underground and if you are lynched you come back to life to travel on is reprehensible to me. It is an injustice to and an insult of a grave undertaking. The only thing that could have made me angrier about this portrayal of important slavery history would be if the author were white. I do not understand the motivation of Mr. Whitehead. Kristi & Abby Tabby

c
Cas22
Feb 06, 2020

As a winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, this novel about the horrors of slavery in America is certainly in illustrious company. And the story of young slave-girl, Cora’s, fight for freedom and dignity in a society that viewed the savage oppression of black people as a right and a duty, is incredibly powerful. However, I found the fragmented writing style, where time, place and voice were often switched without warning, to be both disconcerting and irritating. Nonetheless the novel gave me valuable insights into this dark and shameful period of human history.

d
darcyhudjik
Feb 04, 2020

This is an excellent historic novel!

p
p33atti
Dec 09, 2019

Did this one for a Book Club selection, my choice.
I like reading about the history of African American beginnings in this country, though I find it horrifying at the same time. Very conflicting, internally, for me! As a middle-schooler I remember watching Roots for the very first time and thinking our government should offer EVERY black person the option of being sent back to Africa to rejoin their families. I was maybe 10 years old at the time, so I had no concept of how complicated that would have been-it just seemed "logical" to my thinking. Such as, how each individual person could even know from which family line they even came from originally, since there were no birth records....etc.
Anyway, back to the book....
I knew the underground railroad was a walking route taken by fleeing slaves but this story includes an ACTUAL railroad which for a few seconds made me wonder if that could be true! Hahaha, and "gullible" isn't listed in the dictionary. I felt compassion for each character, even the older black males who ended up raping young black girls. I was at first so pissed at them for victimizing "their own people" but I've come to realize that the brutalization of the race was put upon them by the entirely of the slave system beginning from original capture to being traded by individual plantation owners for generations. ("owners") I can no longer be angry at the black males for brutalizing their sisters, but I AM still heartbroken for both.

b
Bfgordon
Dec 04, 2019

It was a great read. I was just disappointed in the ending... Maybe I was just disappointed it ended at all.

j
jenvickerman
Oct 22, 2019

This work of fiction is raw, gritty, and thought-provoking. It would be a great book club read to pair with non-fiction titles about the underground railroad and slavery.

o
OP_2
Aug 26, 2019

Tea & Talk Book Club / July 2018

w
wlnelson87
Jul 15, 2019

This is an excellent, well written, and intense read! I fully understand why it won so many awards. I could feel the fears and terror of Cora. It reminded me of the some of the dangers of some of the attitudes of today and the dangers of not speaking out.

b
bookoflentil
Jul 13, 2019

The author has said that he often begins a novel with the question "What if...?" What if the Underground Railroad consisted of actual trains on a track? (Whitehead's initial thought as a schoolboy when first learning of the U.R.) And what if each state the runaway slave passes through represents a different aspect and imagining of the American slave labor economy of the 1800s? Well, why not?

This is a work of fiction that is inspired by and grounded in history, with a dash of magical realism (think: trains!) Primarily told from the viewpoint of the runaway slave Cora, it also illuminates the philosophy and motivations of the plantation owners, the regulators and slave catchers, and the abolitionists, station masters, conductors and sympathizers, the freemen and Southern society in general.

Cora's journey is a rollercoaster of pain, violence, hope, despair and perseverance. The cruelty of the slave labor economy is painted in excruciating, heartbreaking detail. My previous understanding of the Underground Railroad was hopelessly naive, informed by a quaint, historically inaccurate oral tradition of coded quilts hung on split rail fences guiding the journeys of those fleeing the South. It was so much more, and readers of this Pulitzer award winner will be rewarded at the end with a wondrous explanation of the railroad metaphor. I promise this book will stay with you a long time.

b
bronsson
Jul 11, 2019

Excellent engaging and important novel

View All Comments

Quotes

Add a Quote
n
nitsirklea
Jan 24, 2020

"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."

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

c
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

Summary

Add a Summary
j
JerryJennings
Jan 04, 2020

This story is fiction and it reflects reality. A tragic and violent history Jim Crow America. Whitehead masterfully takes the reader on a journey into the penal system for adolescent boys, both black and white in the 60’s in Florida. This story focuses on the realities of how black boys were treated. It is another sobering view of America and how we have a past we must understand to move into a future where Black Lives Matter. I recommend it!

m
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.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability
l
latwell1
Aug 20, 2018

latwell1 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Notices

Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings

  Loading...

Find it at NWPL

  Loading...
[]
[]
To Top