The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (August 2, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/20
Reading Sara Review: I hope that I would have heard of this book without Oprah picking it as her Book Club choice, but it is hard to know. I won’t dwell on it too much – because I am just glad that I had a chance to read this book.
The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave working in a cotton field in Georgia. From the beginning of the novel, Whitehead paints a poignant picture of Cora’s life for the reader. Cora became an outcast when her mother ran away and left her behind. Her most prized possession is a tiny plot of land where she grows her vegetables, and she guards it fiercely.
As predicted by the title, a few things come to pass that lead Cora to decide to flee her life on the plantation and run away with Caesar, a new arrival. Whitehead creates a literal underground railroad in explicit detail – one can imagine the smell, the sights, and the sounds. What follows is an unexpected turn of events for Cora and Caesar as they find kindness from strangers while being chased by a man called Ridgeway, the notorious slave catcher.
This was the first book by Whitehead that I have read, but I would not hesitate to pick up others. I appreciated the style – beautiful sentences, but without any flowery details. It is still a difficult book to read. Cora’s struggle is utterly brutal. Even when people show her some kindness, it usually was with restrictions for fear of their own safety. This book is even more important because of its difficulty.
It’s not a light summery read, but it is perfect to dive into as fall approaches, and I am in the mood for more serious books. Whitehead creates an emotional instability that is rarely seen in books, but often in movies. There were so many times that I thought Cora was in the clear – only for something shocking to occur.There are surprises, both good and terrible, but again, this is an important book (not just because Oprah recommends it). Give it a try.