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?
Cora 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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