The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

Author: Colson Whitehead
Rating: 5 Stars
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Where to buy: Amazon | BN | Strand

Ajarry died in the cotton, the bolls bobbing around her like whitecaps on the brute ocean. The last of her village, keeled over in the rows from a knot in her brain, blood pouring from her nose and white froth covering her lips. As if it could have been anywhere else. Liberty was reserved for other people, for the citizens of the City of Pennsylvania bustling a thousand miles to the north. Since the night she was kidnapped she had been appraised and reappraised, each day waking upon the pan of a new scale. Know your value and you know your place in the order. To escape the boundary of the plantation was to escape the fundamental principles of your existence: impossible.

It was her grandmother talking that Sunday evening when Caesar approached Cora about the underground railroad, and she said no.

Three weeks later she said yes.

This time it was her mother talking.

The Underground Railroad is absolutely one of the best books I have ever read. And that is saying something. I would easily add it to my list of top five books I love. Colson Whitehead, who I must admit was, until recently, an author whose work I had never read before. He is now one of my favorite authors and I will eagerly await his new books in the future.

Deservedly chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection, The Underground Railroad was hard to read but hard to put down. It was hard to read because I could not fathom the atrocities Black people had to endure during slavery, including small children, and I wanted to smash every White face I saw on the street, especially now that the Orange Clown has opened the gates to the Racist Circus with his presidential bid. But the novel was also hard to put down because Whitehead writes in an extremely eloquent and compelling manner. When he writes of the violence of slavery, it is not for shock value. Instead, he slowly leads up to the violence, which made me feel the terror that builds when you have no idea what the master has planned for you. His writing was most compelling when he wrote about the importance of books to the former slaves and to blacks in general:

“What we built here . . . there are too many white people who don’t want us to have it. Even if they didn’t suspect our alliance with the railroad. Look around. If they kill a slave for learning his letters, how do you think they feel about a library? We’re in a room brimming with ideas. Too many ideas for a colored man. Or woman.”

Whitehead’s writing brought emotions out of me I had a hard time containing. With the racial climate the way it is now, I find myself fighting even more to make sure my place in this country remains secure. But I also have to remember that there are many of us from all walks of life who want to make things better. The Underground Railroad reminded me of that by telling the stories of not just slaves and their dangerous trips to the freedom they deserved, but also the Whites who were seen as betrayers of their race for helping them escape bondage. Along with Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Mr. Whitehead’s novel is an important read that tells the story of slavery in a way that cannot be whitewashed. It should become part of schools’ reading curriculum so that this part of American history is never lost. I implore you to read The Underground Railroad. I highly recommend it.

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