the underground railroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016 fiction)

It is no surprise that The Underground Railroad won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2017 and the National Book Award. It is a well-crafted amalgam of slavery, cultural attitudes and personal resilience in the antebellum South woven into the fantasy of an actual railroad running underground complete with tracks, engineers and stations. Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, decides to risk everything by running away with Caesar, a free black man from the north who had been captured and sold on the slave market. Each chapter describes in vivid detail the deplorable conditions and horrifying encounters as she makes her way north, sometimes on foot, sometimes on the underground railroad. Even what appears to be a safe haven in South Carolina with her assumed new name presents the historically real and graphic challenges to all blacks whether free or runaway slaves. It is difficult to read, with the stupefying reality of slave life and subhuman treatment by the slave owners and slave catchers, but along the way we also meet good souls who go out of their way to help fleeing slaves. Whitehead’s writing is complex and riveting, a most unusual and compelling work. Highly recommended. Available in the Castro Valley Library in several different formats.

Reviewed by Carol Lyke


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