The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Having LOVED The Nickel Boys, I went onto Whitehead’s previous book immediately. And OH BOY am I glad I did.
I’ll start with Cora, a slave in Georgia who is an outcast even among the other slaves on the cotton plantation. When she meets Caesar, a new arrival, from Virginia, he informs her about the Underground Railroad, a means by which they can escape.
The two decide to make the journey, which is thrown into chaos from the get go when things do not go as planned. They find themselves being hunted from the off, as they disembark at each stop en route. As Cora continue to travel from state to state, she finds a different world each time, on her journey to the freedom she craves.
The real Underground Railroad was not, in fact, a railroad at all. It was a network of safe houses and secret routes that slaves used to escape, with the help of the abolitionists. By turning it into an actual functioning system of trains and conductors, Whitehead imbues his text with a dose of magic realism that does so much to illuminate the experiences and realities of slavery. It is, in my humble opinion, utter literary genius.
Genre-bending, beautifully written and, at times, painful to read, it is a testament to how much a novel can truly be, in how it pushes form and narrative into incredible and original territory. I came away feeling I’d been consumed by the most stunning of stories but also, that I’d had a bloody good education — a very, very special kind of read. Now do yourself a favour and go and read it ~ S
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