The Underground Railroad is the phenomenal novel by author Colson Whitehead. As suggested by the title, this piece of fiction explores the secret railway routes used by slaves in the USA to escape to freedom, usually in Canada or Northern states that didn’t practise slavery.
Whitehead is certainly not new to the literary scene, The Underground Railroad is his sixth novel, and he has also written non-fiction books and published essays. The 2016 release however, is definitely Whitehead’s most well received work. Described as “extraordinary prose and uncomfortable home truths” by The Guardian and a must have for your bookshelf by the one and only Oprah Winfrey, The Underground Railroad doesn’t lack praise, and this is for very good reason.
Whitehead uses his literary prowess to paint a vivid and brutal picture, as the book begins on a slave plantation in Georgia. We are introduced to the characters Cora and then Caeser and witness how they plot their escape. They successfully make it off the plantation and with the help of abolitionists and free black Americans they travel along the underground route.
The research that Whitehead must have done for this novel is pertinent throughout, with his writing fictionalising very true testimonies, like that of Solomon Northup (the free black American kidnapped into slavery).
Fast-paced and traumatic, Whitehead takes the reader on a nauseating and traumatic rollercoaster, from the characters escaping the plantation, to trying to find the railroad, to narrow close calls with slave catchers, and hiding in attics. Be warned, the reader is not given reprieve or even the notion that the characters will get the fairy-tale ever after, you come to expect in fiction, and rightly so, as that would not have been true to reality.
One of our ‘Ten books you should have read…’ The Underground Railroad is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long, long time, deserving of its Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award and Man Booker Prize longlist. I know we are tired of reading stories centred on slavery, as that is not the beginning of black history, however, Whitehead does a fantastic job and this is definitely essential reading.
Buy the book here.