I did The Thing again where I was traveling and I read all the books and now I have to review them in a jumble. Thankfully, I’m starting with one that was absolutely brilliant and I will definitely not confuse with anything else. Let’s hit the ground running, y’all.
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a story of an escape from slavery, exceptionally true-to-life except for a significant ‘what if’: what if the Underground Railroad was an actual goddamn underground railroad? Like with tracks and trains and station masters and the works?
Our protagonist is Cora, a young woman born into slavery in deep Georgia. Her mother, her only family, abandoned her and escaped the plantation when Cora was a young girl, and has managed to elude and frustrate slave catchers ever since. That legacy hangs over Cora when she herself escapes as she braves dogs in the dark, cramped attics, and a chase from the most notorious slave catcher in the South.
I’m not doing the book justice. It’s much more poetic than I can really put words to, it really is beautifully written. I also liked the occasional side chapter from the POV of another character, usually leading up to that character’s death. Whitehead explores a wide range of situations and experiences and while the railroad as he writes it is a fantasy, the day-to-day terror that Cora endures is not. Reading this, I realized that I hadn’t read a novel about slavery likely since I was in school. They are a tough read, but a necessary read, especially for white Americans. We can never be allowed to forget the oppressive, dehumanizing system our ancestors literally fought and died to preserve.