The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

November 8, 2016 Historical Fiction 6

Howdy Bookworms!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I’d like to say it’s because the world found my anecdote about meeting and making a fool of myself in from of Colson Whitehead at BEA was the catalyst, but it’s all Oprah. That’s right. The power of Oprah even managed to push the publication date of this novel up a month. I don’t have that kind of influence. Actually, I don’t want that kind of influence, so I take it all back. Let’s stick to the book, shall we?

undergrown-railroadCora is a slave living on a southern plantation. Slavery is heartbreaking, soul-sucking, and hellish, because how could it not be? But Cora’s got it especially rough. Not only is she enslaved, but she’s been outcasted by her fellow slaves. She’s on the cusp of womanhood and things aren’t looking too bright when she’s approached by a new arrival to the plantation with a plan to escape. That’s where Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad begins to diverge from the typical narrative. He re imagines the historical Underground Railroad as an ACTUAL RAILROAD. I can’t express how much I love this particular bit of literal translation because I totally imagined the Underground Railroad as involving actual trains when I first heard about it as a kid. Who didn’t?

Cora’s journey isn’t an express train into freedom, unfortunately. She’s being tracked by a legendary slave catcher named Ridgeway. Every time she thinks she’s found a safe haven, Cora is forced to run again. The book is harrowing and intense. The blending of history and invention was so seamless I found myself googling certain elements of the story to see if they were things that actually occurred. I know it sounds a little silly, I mean, obviously I knew that the train thing wasn’t real. However, there are so many horrifying elements of slavery that simply aren’t covered in school that I’m very conscious that there’s a lot I don’t know. Which is why I kept googling stuff… Even things that seemed outlandish. Maybe that was a plus, though. Whitehead’s brilliance got me to do more research on the subject simply by fact checking. Mind = Blown.

Because my mind is all discombobulated regarding truth, fiction, and history, let’s chat. What’s the most insane historical fact that you’ve ever heard, Bookworms? 

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6 Responses to “The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead”

  1. Megan M.

    I refuse to believe Oprah’s more influential than you. I’ve read way more of your suggestions than her book club picks. As Oprah says in that one GIF, “So, what is the truth?” Also, “I LOVE BREAD!”

  2. Michelle

    The alternative Souths were SO chilling, weren’t they? I can understand why you felt compelled to learn more about them because they were a bit too realistic for comfort.

  3. Jenny @ Reading the End

    I thought all the stuff about the various states and their approaches to slavery/race was just wonderful. A massive subtweet of the various flavors of racism all over the country.

    My mum made me do a book report on Harriet Tubman when I was six or seven, and that was when I first heard of/learned about the Underground Railroad. So I never thought it was a real train. I always knew Harriet Tubman was a super badass person who used this metaphorical railroad, and although she could never disappoint me because she is the best, I always sort of wished that the Underground Railroad could be a real railroad.

  4. Samantha

    I read it about a month and a half ago and it still sticks with me. I’m actually surprised that I didn’t even think to question some of the things in the book, I don’t know if my suspension of disbelief was just that strong or that so many things were believable. I am actually kind of surprised at myself for not looking up some of the things that happened. It’s heartbreaking but told so matter-of-factly it is hard to stop even though you might want to because of the content matter. I definitely agree that everyone should read it that is prepared for it.

    I can’t actually think of a weird historical fact atm, but if I do, I’ll come back. 😛

  5. B.B. Toady

    I liked the book myself, but had issues getting over some of the inconsistencies in personalities, as well as the strange insertion of the actual railroad. I kept thinking I was going to get to a place where it dawned on my as to why, but the idea was lost on me. You make a very good point in mentioning that the book does push the reader to do a lot of research. I was looking things up like mad while I was reading.

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