The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad has gathered a lot of attention recently after winning this year’s Pulitzer Prize. I had wanted to read it for a while and finally had the time to pick it up. For those who don’t already know this novel tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia who finds herself agreeing to run away with another slave, Caesar. Escaping through the Underground Railroad which will take them away from their troubles to the free states up north. This novel follows just sore of Cora’s harrowing journey across America on the famed Underground Railroad trying to evade recapture back to her vicious owner.


This novel was a very quick and easy read. I managed to finish it in 24 hours not being able to tear my eyes away from Cora’s struggles. This is a heart-breaking but matter-of-fact story of America’s south pre-civicl war at the height of black slavery. This story starts in Africa with the capture of Cora’s grandmother and brings us to her journey.


Despite the win and rave reviews I noticed plenty of criticisms of this novel that ,though I understood, I felt were strengths or inevitabilities of the plot. One such criticism was the impersonal method of using third-person narration leading to not developing an attachment to Cora. In a way I liked that Whitehead did not resort to emotional manipulations or sentimentality to create a response. Personally I found the atrocities of the novel spoke for themselves weaving a dangerous and urgent vibe into the story. Readers also mentioned excessive and under-developed secondary characters but again, I feel it speaks to the nature of the novel. Times were so unpredictable and dangerous that Cora herself did not have time to develop lasting connections or meaningful relationships and so, therefore, the reader did not either. Lastly, others spoke of how the villains were not multidimensional but in all honesty how do you make cruel and vicious slavers multidimensional? Times back then were harsh and brutal. Whitehead only tells of the honesty of the situation with no embellishment or sugar-coating.


The majority of this review is debunking other criticisms of the book in an attempt to tempt all of you into giving it a go and looking past these critiques as plot devices that help tell this story. Cora is a beautiful protagonist and I enjoyed following her through her many horrors. My heart broke for her over and over again. There are twists and turns within this novel keeping the reader on their toes and barrelling towards what they hope is a happy ending. The Underground Railroad is well worth a read and I highly recommend picking it up and making your own mind. This was an insightful and touching novel that speaks to just one small portion of our brutal history as human beings. I give The Underground Railroad four trains bearing away slaves to safety.



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