The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

A Novel

eBook - 2016
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Random House, Inc.
In this #1 New York Times bestseller, Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood&;where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.

In Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman's will to escape the horrors of bondage&;and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Look for Whitehead&;s acclaimed new novel, The Nickel Boys, available now!

Baker & Taylor
The award-winning author of The Noble Hustle chronicles the daring survival story of a cotton plantation slave in Georgia, who, after suffering at the hands of both her owners and fellow slaves, races through the Underground Railroad with a relentless slave-catcher close behind.

Publisher: New York :, Doubleday,, 2016
ISBN: 9780385537049
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file,rda
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc. - Distributor

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From Library Staff

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolin... Read More »

Colson Whitehead imagines a literal Underground Railroad in his latest novel of the same name. Stealthily shuttling blacks from the South to the North, the operators of the railroad are hyperaware of every possibility, but still, every moment discovery seems imminent. Cora, a slave on a cotton pl... Read More »

December 2018 "After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South."

#2 - An alternate history novel

June 20, 2017

From the critics

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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.

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 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.

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.

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.

May 22, 2020

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

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.

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

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.

Feb 04, 2020

This is an excellent historic novel!

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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Jan 24, 2020

"And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes--believes with all its heart--that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are."

CMLibrary_gjd Jun 13, 2017

pg 52 "The southern white man was spat from the loins of the devil and there was no way to forecast his next evil act."
pg 116 "Truth was a changing display in a shop window, manipulated by hands when you weren't looking, alluring and ever out of reach."
pg 175 Donald thought....."Chattel slavery was an affront to God, and slavers an aspect of Satan."
pg 214 "Time enough for Cora to take stock of her journey from Randall and make a thick braid of her misfortunes."
pg 224 Ridgeway says..."You heard my name when you were a pickaninny...The name of punishment, dogging every fugitive step and every thought of running away."
pg 234 "One thing about the south, it was not patient when it came to killing negroes."

Dec 08, 2016

"Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man's equal." - page 139

Dec 08, 2016

"Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man." - page 182


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Jan 04, 2020

This story is fiction and it reflects reality. A tragic and violent history Jim Crow America. Whitehead masterfully takes the reader on a journey into the penal system for adolescent boys, both black and white in the 60’s in Florida. This story focuses on the realities of how black boys were treated. It is another sobering view of America and how we have a past we must understand to move into a future where Black Lives Matter. I recommend it!

Apr 04, 2017

It was worth waiting four months for The Underground Railroad to become available. Once I got it, I finished it in two or three days. Mable was kidnapped from Africa and taken to Georgia, where she was made to be a slave. She had a daughter, Cora, who is the main character of the book. Mable ran away, and was never heard from again, much to the sadness and anger of her young daughter Cora. The daily fears, indignities, and brutalities of life as a slave were described, as were the gamut of relationships among the slaves. Cora ran away, was caught, ran away again, let her guard down and was again caught, and again ran away. She was helped along the way by kind people of both races, some who accepted the danger they put themselves in and some who didn't but couldn't just do nothing. There was much, much sadness and I found myself hoping it was more fiction than historical fiction.

SPL_Heather Nov 07, 2016

Cora is a young woman living on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Her mother had escaped years ago and Cora carries the feelings of abandonment and resentment with her still. Life is harsh for the slaves but particularly for Cora as she is ostracized even from her fellow Africans. When she is offered the chance to escape on the Underground Railroad, she initially refuses. It is only after a brutal beating from the plantation owner, and promises of more to come, that Cora takes the opportunity to escape via the Railroad. During the escape, a man is killed, and the bounty on her head grows exponentially. As she travels from state to state, Cora experiences new horrors and moves closer to the North while being pursued by the relentless slave catcher Ridgeway. Along Cora’s journey we meet abolitionists, opportunists, and hypocrites who all play a role in the road to freedom.

In this coming of age tale, author Colson Whitehead envisions the Underground Railroad not as a metaphor, but as a real underground train network with conductors and station agents. This does nothing to take away from the very human experiences Cora lives through in this alternative history tale.

This book functions as a meditation on slavery during pre-civil war America. Cora’s journey to freedom takes her to different states, which allows Whitehead to describe the many horrors of slavery. In one state, Cora is treated well and given lodgings and a job but there are dark secrets hidden beneath the shiny exterior. In subsequent states, we see various other terrors including hangings, corpse trails, and mobs. While Whitehead reimagines these into a single narrative, the experiences he describes did occur in America’s history and it’s important that they are remembered.

The characterization in this latest selection in Oprah’s book club is also excellent. The various characters are fully realized people with backgrounds and emotions. In this way, we as readers have larger insight into the slave owners and slave catchers and what their motivations were and how they played the roles that they did in history.

Author Colson Whitehead is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and bestselling author. He employs his skills to craft a page turner of an historical novel. The chapters mostly come from Cora’s perspective, but interspersed are chapters from the perspective of other characters. The result is a novel with enormous depth and lush descriptions while still being highly readable.


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Aug 20, 2018

latwell1 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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