I’m of two minds on Underground Airlines. On the one hand, judging it strictly on its own merits, it’s an thought-provoking and interesting book. The basic premise is that the Civil War never happened, and slavery was never abolished. It still exists in the United States in four southern states (the “Hard Four”). The story centers around Victor, an escaped slave who was caught by the government and now works for them as a sort of bounty hunter, tracking down other escaped slaves. In Underground Airlines, Victor is searching for an escaped slave named Jackdaw, and this search (in a very typical noir fashion) leads him deeper and deeper into a giant conspiracy with terrifying implications.
This is not the kind of book I normally read, but it held my interest, as Victor wrestles with guilt and rage over what he is forced by the government to do. The plot twists were exciting and of course the basic premise is thought-provoking–perhaps most disturbing of all is how similar Victor’s world seems to ours, and I wonder if I would have noticed as many similarities if I had read it right when it first came out in the summer of 2016.
On the other hand, though, I found that I felt uncomfortable at times reading a book narrated by an African-American former slave, that was written by a white guy. Is this Ben Winters’s story to tell? I’m not sure that I, as a white person, am qualified to answer that. I have seen comparisons between this book and Kindred, so I’m adding that to my TBR list. Maybe after I read it I can revisit my feelings on this one a little bit.