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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

A Novel

Book - 2016
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"Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels."--
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385537032
Branch Call Number: Whitehead, C
Characteristics: 306 pages ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

Fiction, 2017. For a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America. -

From the critics

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Apr 10, 2021

I can see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize. Very rich characters. Beautiful rhythms. Fascinating narrative, especially the way Whitehead makes the railroad a literal railroad. Heartily recommend.

Mar 24, 2021

The underground railroad was an important historical means of helping escaped slaves reach the North and freedom. It saved lives!! It was undertaken by people who risked their own lives because they hated slavery. To turn it into some sort of mythical fantasy world where there is an actual railroad underground and if you are lynched you come back to life to travel on is reprehensible to me. It is an injustice to and an insult of a grave undertaking. The only thing that could have made me angrier about this portrayal of important slavery history would be if the author were white. I do not understand the motivation of Mr. Whitehead. Kristi & Abby Tabby

Feb 11, 2021

This was hard to get through at first, in that it was difficult to read the horrors presented in the book. I'm so glad I kept reading, though. It is a great story, and I felt like I learned a lot about slavery in different parts of the U.S.

Feb 10, 2021

This riveting 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is about a young woman born into a third generation of slavery (her mother escaped years earlier) who escapes from a Georgia plantation with a male slave. A beautifully written story with life-and-death tension throughout, and fully human characters from heroine Cora to her running-partner, Caesar, and including slave-owners, slave-chasers and those who ran the railroad for escaping slaves and others who help house Cora and other escaped slaves. You won't soon forget this one.

Feb 06, 2021

This superb book will educate you, horrify you, and through the bravery and determination of many of the characters, inspire you. It is very difficult to put it down, but there are points where it is necessary to allow what you have just read to sit and stew in your heart and brain for a while. Difficult subject matter dealt with masterfully, as Whitehead does.

Jan 12, 2021

It's literary fiction through and through; this book is not for those who want a quick read that doesn't require deeper reflection. I think that this is a good read-alike for Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God. In fact, this book relies on narratives such as these, narratives the reader might be familiar with, so that it can subvert their expectations. Whitehead plays with time like it's putty in this telling of Black American history; he folds together events and experiences from slavery to Jim Crow until they are indistinguishable from one another. This is not a book about slavery, it's a book about being Black in America.

Dec 13, 2020

I read some of the other comments and disagree with the negative ones. True, he took some literary license with the railroad idea, but Cora’s unstoppable drive for freedom was inspiring.

JessicaGma Dec 02, 2020

It's an interesting concept to make the Underground Railroad an actual railroad but I was hoping for a different ending - mind you this was far more realistic and probably far more truthful than glossing over what happened as we tend to do. A really different read.

Charlielola1 Oct 04, 2020

The cold writing style of this book irritated me to the point where I didn't care what happened to the characters. How did this get major awards? Oprah chooses books for woke appeal. Making the railroad real wasn't a clever took away from the absolute bravery of the network of people who helped those seeking freedom. A narrative on a shameful period of history deserved a better treatment. I did think about this book for days afterwards and it's a terrible reflection of his much some things have changed yet stay the same.

Sep 28, 2020

This 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a fictional tale that reads almost like a clinical historical account of American slavery and racial injustice. The writing is solid, but the overall style is cold and impersonal, leaving very little room for character development. Worse yet, the story structure jumps around between narrative and character backstory, making the plot hard to follow at times. Still, I enjoyed the history lesson if not the actual narrative. Personally, I recommend reading Lawrence Hill's similarly focused *The Book of Negroes* instead.

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Jan 24, 2020

"And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes--believes with all its heart--that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. 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."

CMLibrary_gjd 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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Jan 04, 2020

This story is fiction and it reflects reality. A tragic and violent history Jim Crow America. Whitehead masterfully takes the reader on a journey into the penal system for adolescent boys, both black and white in the 60’s in Florida. This story focuses on the realities of how black boys were treated. It is another sobering view of America and how we have a past we must understand to move into a future where Black Lives Matter. I recommend it!

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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Aug 20, 2018

latwell1 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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