#BookReview: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

What’s it about?

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

My thoughts

This was our latest book club read and I could sum it up in just one word….astounding!  I could leave it that…..but then there wouldn’t be much of a review!

I’m not gonna lie I haven’t read any books around slavery or have any real knowledge of the Underground Railroad so this has been a fascinating read.

I can’t say that on the whole this is an enjoyable read, there are enjoyable parts but for the most this book will raise other emotions; fear, loathing, shame, hope and empathy.  I’m not sure you can enjoy a book that encounters so much suffering and degradation.

The book is so well written that just one sentence can make you feel sick and disgusted to your stomach and because you know stuff like this really happened makes it even harder to swallow.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about the torture and the beatings there are some really hopeful moments but even those caused me a build of tension and plenty of sweaty palm moments.

There’s also a real mix of characters; some vile evil ones that’ll make your toes curl ad you feel sick to your stomach and some good that’ll swell your heart with love – people who were just out to help others in need despite the severe danger to themselves and their families…these people were heroes.

It wasn’t until after I’d finished the book and was discussing at book club that it had never occurred to me that the actual physical railroad used in the book could never have been as it was depicted and that it would have been logistically impossible given the era and situation.  I usually pick up on these magical realism scenarios because they’re not my thing but this….well maybe I’m just gullible but I never in my head questioned how it could possibly come to be.

One of the best books I’ve read this year, if not, the best!

Book links: Goodreads | Waterstones | Amazon

Author links: Twitter | Website

Small print for info
Source: Library
No of pages: 400
Publisher: Fleet

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