26 August 2016
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape. Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey.
Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
If The Underground Railroad doesn't win all the literary prizes this year then those judges have no idea what they're missing.
This a raw, searing, gutting novel of will and grit and fear and mistrust and hope. Whitehead has pulled from so many parts of history to create the world that Cora occupies, from racism and the inhumanity of slavery to eugenics to Tuskeegee. All the open wounds laid bare. Whitehead also chose to use elements of magical realism and alternate history novels to explore different ideologies that have been floated in the past regarding racism and segregation. Cora is transported between states using a literal underground railroad - one state seems to have a sort-of progressive benevolent (yet menacing) segregation, another violently rejects all African-Americans or sympathizers, another presents an ideal utopia. The plot and writing are truly phenomenal. A masterpiece.
(My only regret is that Oprah surprised us by picking this for her bookclub, moving up the publication date by over a month and goofing up my reading schedule. I had just finished being wrecked by Homegoing so wasn't able to get this at the beginning of the month.)
Dear FTC: I got an ARC of this book at the Adult Author Breakfast at BEA and you can be sure that I'll be buying a copy of this, too.