The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

A Novel

Book - 2016
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dcreynolds2
Apr 10, 2021

I can see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize. Very rich characters. Beautiful rhythms. Fascinating narrative, especially the way Whitehead makes the railroad a literal railroad. Heartily recommend.

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maipenrai
Mar 24, 2021

The underground railroad was an important historical means of helping escaped slaves reach the North and freedom. It saved lives!! It was undertaken by people who risked their own lives because they hated slavery. To turn it into some sort of mythical fantasy world where there is an actual railroad underground and if you are lynched you come back to life to travel on is reprehensible to me. It is an injustice to and an insult of a grave undertaking. The only thing that could have made me angrier about this portrayal of important slavery history would be if the author were white. I do not understand the motivation of Mr. Whitehead. Kristi & Abby Tabby

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kmm398
Feb 11, 2021

This was hard to get through at first, in that it was difficult to read the horrors presented in the book. I'm so glad I kept reading, though. It is a great story, and I felt like I learned a lot about slavery in different parts of the U.S.

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BARosen1112
Feb 10, 2021

This riveting 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is about a young woman born into a third generation of slavery (her mother escaped years earlier) who escapes from a Georgia plantation with a male slave. A beautifully written story with life-and-death tension throughout, and fully human characters from heroine Cora to her running-partner, Caesar, and including slave-owners, slave-chasers and those who ran the railroad for escaping slaves and others who help house Cora and other escaped slaves. You won't soon forget this one.

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betsymarzoni
Feb 06, 2021

This superb book will educate you, horrify you, and through the bravery and determination of many of the characters, inspire you. It is very difficult to put it down, but there are points where it is necessary to allow what you have just read to sit and stew in your heart and brain for a while. Difficult subject matter dealt with masterfully, as Whitehead does.

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JoyAndVerve
Jan 12, 2021

It's literary fiction through and through; this book is not for those who want a quick read that doesn't require deeper reflection. I think that this is a good read-alike for Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God. In fact, this book relies on narratives such as these, narratives the reader might be familiar with, so that it can subvert their expectations. Whitehead plays with time like it's putty in this telling of Black American history; he folds together events and experiences from slavery to Jim Crow until they are indistinguishable from one another. This is not a book about slavery, it's a book about being Black in America.

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kjjranch
Dec 13, 2020

I read some of the other comments and disagree with the negative ones. True, he took some literary license with the railroad idea, but Cora’s unstoppable drive for freedom was inspiring.

JessicaGma Dec 02, 2020

It's an interesting concept to make the Underground Railroad an actual railroad but I was hoping for a different ending - mind you this was far more realistic and probably far more truthful than glossing over what happened as we tend to do. A really different read.

Charlielola1 Oct 04, 2020

The cold writing style of this book irritated me to the point where I didn't care what happened to the characters. How did this get major awards? Oprah chooses books for woke appeal. Making the railroad real wasn't a clever idea..it took away from the absolute bravery of the network of people who helped those seeking freedom. A narrative on a shameful period of history deserved a better treatment. I did think about this book for days afterwards and it's a terrible reflection of his much some things have changed yet stay the same.

k
kwsmith
Sep 28, 2020

This 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a fictional tale that reads almost like a clinical historical account of American slavery and racial injustice. The writing is solid, but the overall style is cold and impersonal, leaving very little room for character development. Worse yet, the story structure jumps around between narrative and character backstory, making the plot hard to follow at times. Still, I enjoyed the history lesson if not the actual narrative. Personally, I recommend reading Lawrence Hill's similarly focused *The Book of Negroes* instead.

r
ryankegley
Sep 21, 2020

Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” was a very good book that I so wanted to be great. The writing, the story, the characters, and the world-building — not quite magical realism, but not straight historical fiction either — were all top-notch, but, still, it felt like something was missing. I experienced a greater sense of this with “The Nickel Boys,” Whitehead’s “Underground” successor, feeling that it would have been stronger as reportage than fiction.

Here, Whitehead fares better by not hewing strictly to historical accuracy, infusing the story with anachronistic touches — Jim Crow race laws, lynching as entertainment, eugenics programs, etc. — that put the reader in multiple time periods at once. The result is the literary equivalent of The Beastie Boy’s “Paul’s Boutique” or The Beatles’ “Love,” thrilling to read because you’re trying to pinpoint and make sense of all the references layered atop one another.

So, what’s missing? A first-person narrative. For me, “The Underground Railroad” would have been more powerful and more moving had it been told through its protagonist, Cora, allowing us to feel what she felt. That would certainly have limited the scope of the novel but greatly expanded its impact. Still, Whitehead is a talented writer with important things to say, and I’m certain there is a five-star book in our future.

a
andreabilyeu
May 22, 2020

I wanted to like this book, but I didn't.

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pokano
Apr 10, 2020

This historical novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of a black woman slave who used the Underground Railroad in a quest to find freedom. Surprisingly to me, in this book, an actual railroad comprises the Underground Railroad, whereas historically, the term described a system of routes and safe houses that slaves could use to get to relative safety. In this sense, the book is allegorical. Nonetheless, the descriptions of slavery and the terror that runaways necessarily must have felt ring true. Netflix has apparently agreed to create a series based on this book; I look forward to seeing it.

m
maipenrai
Feb 23, 2020

The underground railroad was an important historical means of helping escaped slaves reach the North and freedom. It saved lives!! It was undertaken by people who risked their own lives because they hated slavery. To turn it into some sort of mythical fantasy world where there is an actual railroad underground and if you are lynched you come back to life to travel on is reprehensible to me. It is an injustice to and an insult of a grave undertaking. The only thing that could have made me angrier about this portrayal of important slavery history would be if the author were white. I do not understand the motivation of Mr. Whitehead. Kristi & Abby Tabby

Cas22 Feb 06, 2020

As a winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, this novel about the horrors of slavery in America is certainly in illustrious company. And the story of young slave-girl, Cora’s, fight for freedom and dignity in a society that viewed the savage oppression of black people as a right and a duty, is incredibly powerful. However, I found the fragmented writing style, where time, place and voice were often switched without warning, to be both disconcerting and irritating. Nonetheless the novel gave me valuable insights into this dark and shameful period of human history.

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darcyhudjik
Feb 04, 2020

This is an excellent historic novel!

p
p33atti
Dec 09, 2019

Did this one for a Book Club selection, my choice.
I like reading about the history of African American beginnings in this country, though I find it horrifying at the same time. Very conflicting, internally, for me! As a middle-schooler I remember watching Roots for the very first time and thinking our government should offer EVERY black person the option of being sent back to Africa to rejoin their families. I was maybe 10 years old at the time, so I had no concept of how complicated that would have been-it just seemed "logical" to my thinking. Such as, how each individual person could even know from which family line they even came from originally, since there were no birth records....etc.
Anyway, back to the book....
I knew the underground railroad was a walking route taken by fleeing slaves but this story includes an ACTUAL railroad which for a few seconds made me wonder if that could be true! Hahaha, and "gullible" isn't listed in the dictionary. I felt compassion for each character, even the older black males who ended up raping young black girls. I was at first so pissed at them for victimizing "their own people" but I've come to realize that the brutalization of the race was put upon them by the entirely of the slave system beginning from original capture to being traded by individual plantation owners for generations. ("owners") I can no longer be angry at the black males for brutalizing their sisters, but I AM still heartbroken for both.

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Bfgordon
Dec 04, 2019

It was a great read. I was just disappointed in the ending... Maybe I was just disappointed it ended at all.

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jenvickerman
Oct 22, 2019

This work of fiction is raw, gritty, and thought-provoking. It would be a great book club read to pair with non-fiction titles about the underground railroad and slavery.

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OP_2
Aug 26, 2019

Tea & Talk Book Club / July 2018

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wlnelson87
Jul 15, 2019

This is an excellent, well written, and intense read! I fully understand why it won so many awards. I could feel the fears and terror of Cora. It reminded me of the some of the dangers of some of the attitudes of today and the dangers of not speaking out.

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bookoflentil
Jul 13, 2019

The author has said that he often begins a novel with the question "What if...?" What if the Underground Railroad consisted of actual trains on a track? (Whitehead's initial thought as a schoolboy when first learning of the U.R.) And what if each state the runaway slave passes through represents a different aspect and imagining of the American slave labor economy of the 1800s? Well, why not?

This is a work of fiction that is inspired by and grounded in history, with a dash of magical realism (think: trains!) Primarily told from the viewpoint of the runaway slave Cora, it also illuminates the philosophy and motivations of the plantation owners, the regulators and slave catchers, and the abolitionists, station masters, conductors and sympathizers, the freemen and Southern society in general.

Cora's journey is a rollercoaster of pain, violence, hope, despair and perseverance. The cruelty of the slave labor economy is painted in excruciating, heartbreaking detail. My previous understanding of the Underground Railroad was hopelessly naive, informed by a quaint, historically inaccurate oral tradition of coded quilts hung on split rail fences guiding the journeys of those fleeing the South. It was so much more, and readers of this Pulitzer award winner will be rewarded at the end with a wondrous explanation of the railroad metaphor. I promise this book will stay with you a long time.

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bronsson
Jul 11, 2019

Excellent engaging and important novel

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EljayJohnson
Jul 08, 2019

This was the "it" book of 2016; I read Whitehead's Zone One and LOVED it; I'm a historical fiction fan -- all of this added up to enthusiasm and anticipation as I cracked The Underground Railroad open. I liked the first chapter - the backstory of Cora's grandmother - very much, so I was sure I was in for a great read. Then... disappointment after disappointment.
I think Whitehead threw in everything but the kitchen sink - and didn't earn it.
The writing was pedestrian.
I questioned the historical accuracy.
Undeveloped characters.
Why, why, why the focus on the slave catcher?
And I despised the magical realism of a real railroad rather than the historical, much more interesting true "railroad" of incredibly brave, resourceful, and brilliant people. Really hated that. Inexplicable. Stupid choice.

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princessofburundi
May 27, 2019

I hated this book. I know it's supposed to be wonderful, but the amount of gruesome and detailed violence in this novel was far too much for me. I was also not at all satisfied with Whitehead's take on the Underground Railroad. I've read many good books about slavery, but this was not one of them.


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