Social justice warrior alert: this was a really tough one, and also should be mandatory reading.
I grew up in Canada, and stories about the American Civil War and the Underground Railroad have always been fairly romantic to me: good and caring citizens resisted the status quo and helped shuttle slaves from town to town until they were safely out of harm’s way in the North, often fabulous Canada where we were the cooler (haha) neighbor, and where former slaves could habeas their own damn corpuses.
The story told in The Underground Railroad is more real, more full of heart, and beautiful and terrible all at once. Told from many points-of-view, it revolves around the escape and pursuit of a young woman, a slave from the barbaric conditions on her plantation in Georgia, conditions that are unfathomable and yet clearly totally standard and normal. We go deep with Cora (the slave), and with her companions in her escape, the engineers and conductors who assist her on the railroad, the slave catchers dispatched to find her, and a number of others.
It’s all pretty awful, and hard to read. It’s also really important to know that the experiences Cora endures were completely typical, and acceptable to virtually all non-slaves. The concept that a human could possibly less of a human than another was alive and thriving in most of this country less than two hundred years ago. We all must pay attention, know where we’ve come from, and we must do better.