My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 Stars
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s 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. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Overall/ Writing Style
I picked this book up because it looked interesting, it had a lot of hype, and it was an Oprah Book Club pick. I definitely think that this book lived up to the hype and Cora’s journey showed the extreme brutality that African slaves went through in a very clear way. This book has a unique writing style that caught me a little off guard when I first started reading it. It is written in a way that throws the facts right at your face and leaves the emotion out of it. That’s not to say that this story is not incredibly disheartening, but it did seem that Cora didn’t talk about how she felt about the things that happened to her. I think that Colson Whitehead did this on purpose in order to convey a message (maybe he didn’t, but I’d like to think that he did). Cora has been through so much sadness in her life, that the way she thinks is just her analyzing her surroundings and the events that happen to her. It is as though she has been forced to become detached from how she feels about things otherwise it would become too overwhelming.
I have never read a story such as this before. It is a very unique historical fiction read. I usually enjoy books where I am able to understand how the characters in a book feel, but that just wasn’t how this book was written. That is why I gave it 3.5 stars instead of 4 (It was just a personal preference). However, I am very glad that I did read this book through because I think it showed the story of a slave girl in a light that is important for all people to understand. For that reason, I think anyone who loves historical fiction should pick this one up. I honestly don’t think that this book could have been written any other way and still have had the same effect.
I really enjoyed how the underground railroad was an actual underground railroad and not just a metaphor. I think most kids who learn about this part of history in school initially think that it is something literal (myself included). I watched some interviews of Colson Whitehead talking about his inspiration for writing this story and he mentioned how he had thought the same thing when he was a kid. I think the book had the perfect combination of a child’s view of the underground railroad and the real facts of the hardships that occurred.
- “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.”
- “Cora didn’t know what optimistic meant. She asked the other girls that night if they were familiar with the word. None of them had heard it before. She decided that it meant trying.”
- “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.”