The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

A Novel

eBook - 2016
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a--Gulliver's Travels,The Underground Railroad From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, 2016
ISBN: 9780385537049
Branch Call Number: PS3573.H4768
Characteristics: 1 downloadable text file

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Fiction: Two fugitive slaves, Cora and Caesar, try to escape via the Underground Railroad.

This alternate history novel tells the story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves in the southeastern United States during the 1800s who make a bid for freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the Underground Railroad, which in the novel is an actual subway as opposed to a series of safe hou... Read More »

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Feb 04, 2018

The writing style makes it hard to read.

liljables Jan 22, 2018

With all of the accolades this book has received, it was only a matter of time before I picked it up. The Underground Railroad surpassed my expectations - the fictionalized historical details that Whitehead wove into the narrative were both jarring and utterly believable. Whitehead has transformed the historical network of safehouses and allies that we know as the underground railroad into an actual system of trains and rails; this adds a fantastical element to a story that is otherwise very grounded. This novel is highly readable despite its grim content. If you enjoy epic historical sagas but are willing to suspend your disbelief to allow for modern social commentary, you've got to read The Underground Railroad.

Oct 07, 2017

After going to the Pen and Podium Book Club discussion and then hearing Colson Whitehead talk about and read this book, I began to understand my struggle with it. It is very difficult, unrelenting and painful to read - and that is the experience of enslavement. It is also atypical in its use of fantasy mingled with fact - many of us know a lot about this period of history and the actual "underground railroad" and so it is jarring when that is used as a metaphor, with actual trains and tunnels and stops. Also with the depiction of the North Carolina "trail of tears" and other unreal elements woven into the story. We forgive this and are even enchanted by it when it involves a culture foreign to us - the "magic realism" of Latino writers, for instance. But it is more challenging in our own culture. The confusion made me stop and think and experience something about the enslavement of people in my own history and culture in a way that reading other novels of the era have not done. After a difficult journey with the book, I appreciate it deeply.

Oct 04, 2017

A very disturbing fictional account of slavery in the US south. As a member of the human race I found this story very depressing because it recounts the terribly cruelties that human beings inflicted on others in this not too distant time period. Worth reading in order to learn more about an important part of american history.

Jul 24, 2017

What are you waiting for? Go get it.

Jul 06, 2017

I think this is a brilliant book for a couple of reasons. To start, it tackles a subject so emotionally charged that it is very difficult not to let the drama overwhelm everything. Slavery, like the holocaust, is a difficult thing to write about without falling into clichés about the nature of evil. The heart shouts loudly. What Whitehead manages to do is to escape history to some extent, and presents slavery as a state of mind that relates to race relations today. And he does it by making it so obviously not a real history. I read it in much the same way I read Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson; the truth being not in the historical accuracy but in tone and character.

And speaking of tone, I found myself often thinking how much this book was like Zone One in evoking a tone of constant menace. I think between the two books Whitehead has put his finger on the mental state of being black in America; that even when things seem good there is always, somewhere in the back of your mind, the feeling that the zombies or the lynch mobs could come any day.

kmscows Jun 30, 2017

Masterfully told, Colson Whitehead takes us on the horrific journey of African Americans out of slavery to a place of escape and hope on a real underground train.

Jun 28, 2017

I was really looking forward to reading this based on awards won and buzz generated. While the story was memorable and moving, the writing style detracted from my experience. I would still recommend this book, but don't get set your expectations too high. There have been far better books released recently (another shout out for "A Gentleman in Moscow").

Jun 27, 2017

Hard to put this book down; it is fascinating. The library classifies it as historical fiction; it is also science fiction. Few readers experience anything like the horrors of this book, but in some ways all of us are on a railroad journey in the dark, with good times and bad times. The casual cruelty to African-Americans is still with us.

Jun 18, 2017

Colson Whitehead must be praised for a remarkable achievement with this surreal vision of the torments of slavery and the promise of escape. What begins as a well-executed, if unremarkable, narrative of the sufferings of a young woman in slavery, evolves into a phantasmagorical cacophony of horrors as realism is engulfed by symbolism that represent the long history of cruelties inflicted on Africans and their descendants in America.

The structure of the novel imitates the epic quest tale, though perhaps here the better comparison would be to a journey into Dante's circles of hell. The metaphorical underground railroad becomes an actual railway line, with mysterious branches and burrows far into the South. Each state in the travels of Cora, a runaway slave, represent a particular type of oppression inflicted on African Americans. Imprisonment and torture; eradication through lynching; seemingly benign, scientific paternalism; forced sterilization or plans for amalgamation: it's all here. When we get to Cora's penultimate destination, we already know what must come, because it's the one horror we haven't yet visited.

Whitehead has tremendous writing talent, and his concise, deadly accurate prose can bring home the tragedy of the ideology of white supremacy in a simple sentence: "She'd never been the first person to open a book." In a comment on the inevitable reaction to the success of a black settlement: "That is how the European tribes operate, she said. If they can't control it, they destroy it." This isn't a novel that sermonizes, but rather envisions the conceits and deceits of a history founded on slavery: "This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are."

Here we are. Still caught up in this overly long tragedy that began with the idea that one "race" of humans could objectify, dehumanize, and own another "race" of humans. Whitehead illuminates the past in a brilliant and refreshing (if that word can be used in a novel of such dark events) style and structure that helps us see the threads running through these events. Threads that spiral ever onward.

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Jun 13, 2017

pg 52 "The southern white man was spat from the loins of the devil and there was no way to forecast his next evil act."
pg 116 "Truth was a changing display in a shop window, manipulated by hands when you weren't looking, alluring and ever out of reach."
pg 175 Donald thought....."Chattel slavery was an affront to God, and slavers an aspect of Satan."
pg 214 "Time enough for Cora to take stock of her journey from Randall and make a thick braid of her misfortunes."
pg 224 Ridgeway says..."You heard my name when you were a pickaninny...The name of punishment, dogging every fugitive step and every thought of running away."
pg 234 "One thing about the south, it was not patient when it came to killing negroes."

Dec 08, 2016

"Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man's equal." - page 139

Dec 08, 2016

"Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man." - page 182


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Apr 04, 2017

It was worth waiting four months for The Underground Railroad to become available. Once I got it, I finished it in two or three days. Mable was kidnapped from Africa and taken to Georgia, where she was made to be a slave. She had a daughter, Cora, who is the main character of the book. Mable ran away, and was never heard from again, much to the sadness and anger of her young daughter Cora. The daily fears, indignities, and brutalities of life as a slave were described, as were the gamut of relationships among the slaves. Cora ran away, was caught, ran away again, let her guard down and was again caught, and again ran away. She was helped along the way by kind people of both races, some who accepted the danger they put themselves in and some who didn't but couldn't just do nothing. There was much, much sadness and I found myself hoping it was more fiction than historical fiction.

SPL_Heather Nov 07, 2016

Cora is a young woman living on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Her mother had escaped years ago and Cora carries the feelings of abandonment and resentment with her still. Life is harsh for the slaves but particularly for Cora as she is ostracized even from her fellow Africans. When she is offered the chance to escape on the Underground Railroad, she initially refuses. It is only after a brutal beating from the plantation owner, and promises of more to come, that Cora takes the opportunity to escape via the Railroad. During the escape, a man is killed, and the bounty on her head grows exponentially. As she travels from state to state, Cora experiences new horrors and moves closer to the North while being pursued by the relentless slave catcher Ridgeway. Along Cora’s journey we meet abolitionists, opportunists, and hypocrites who all play a role in the road to freedom.

In this coming of age tale, author Colson Whitehead envisions the Underground Railroad not as a metaphor, but as a real underground train network with conductors and station agents. This does nothing to take away from the very human experiences Cora lives through in this alternative history tale.

This book functions as a meditation on slavery during pre-civil war America. Cora’s journey to freedom takes her to different states, which allows Whitehead to describe the many horrors of slavery. In one state, Cora is treated well and given lodgings and a job but there are dark secrets hidden beneath the shiny exterior. In subsequent states, we see various other terrors including hangings, corpse trails, and mobs. While Whitehead reimagines these into a single narrative, the experiences he describes did occur in America’s history and it’s important that they are remembered.

The characterization in this latest selection in Oprah’s book club is also excellent. The various characters are fully realized people with backgrounds and emotions. In this way, we as readers have larger insight into the slave owners and slave catchers and what their motivations were and how they played the roles that they did in history.

Author Colson Whitehead is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and bestselling author. He employs his skills to craft a page turner of an historical novel. The chapters mostly come from Cora’s perspective, but interspersed are chapters from the perspective of other characters. The result is a novel with enormous depth and lush descriptions while still being highly readable.


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