The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Published by Fleet, 1st January 2017 (first published 2nd August 2016)
Genres: Historical fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased (second-hand)

Trigger warnings: Sexual abuse, slavery, violence


Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Her already hellish existence as a slave is made worse by the fact that her mother escaped years ago, leaving Cora, just a child, alone in the world. As a result, she is an outcast among her fellow slaves. Faced with her bitter future, she jumps at the chance of escape, in the form of Caesar, a slave newly arrived from Virginia.

Caesar tells her of his contacts with the Underground Railroad, which nobody believes operates so far south. One dark night they escape the plantation and make their way to the nearest station. The Underground Railroad is a physical railway, built underground and drawn along by a steam engine. Secret stations and station masters help to hide and transport slaves to freedom. But Cora is pursued by a terrifying slave-hunter, determined to catch her after he failed to do so with her mother.

My thoughts

This book received a lot of hype and many awards, so I was really looking forward to it. And I was not disappointed. I loved the imaginative way the author brought the underground railroad to life. It was so well thought out, with underground stations, each decorated in their own way, trains of varying levels of comfort and drivers to take the escaped slaves to the promise of freedom. It was very cleverly done!

I also enjoyed that the story is told from multiple perspectives, not only Cora’s but also Caesar, Ridgeway the slave hunter and other characters Cora meets along the way. This really helped to give an extra level of depth to the story and gave voices to all the characters.

Overall, this is a powerful story of perseverance and never giving up, in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Cora is so determined to be free that she is prepared to undergo so many deprivations and struggles, without being worn down. Cora is a beautifully written and powerful character, which just served to make her struggles even more heart-wrenching and real.

I really enjoyed this book, although the subject matter is heavy and hard to read at times. I found myself having to put it down occasionally, just because it was all getting a bit much for me.

My rating: 4/5

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