Didn’t think I’d be back so soon, did you? Well, I’m bored, and I’m currently supervising an empty teen area at the library, so why not be productive.
Time for an actual book surprise (I know, right?). Okay, so. Right into it. Today I’m talking about Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
The Deal: (From the back of the book because who do you think I am) Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Robyn says: Okay, I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but I really did not like this book. I understand that it’s not meant to be an easy read, given the subject matter – and I will say that I respect this book and its author immensely. Whitehead must have had a hell of a time writing this. I can’t imagine the emotional strain of researching the unimaginable horrors suffered by slaves prior to Emancipation, let alone attempting to craft a narrative including so many horrible events that millions of people were forced to endure. What’s more, Whitehead is actually a really great writer. His sentences are beautifully constructed, and I think that, even thought I disliked this book, I will try some of his other works (Zone One looks quite good, and I remember it being highly recommended by a lot of people when it was published).
My problem lies mostly with the characters. I didn’t feel like I didn’t ever really get a glimpse into Cora’s internal life. So much of the book described things that were happening to her, without any insight into how those things affected her beyond the physical sense. Actually, this review sums up most of my feelings about the book better than I could right now, as I’m currently trying not to enact bodily violence upon a horde of tweens on scooters currently disrupting the quite of my library.
Ultimately, I thought this book was detached and cold. I felt no connection to any of the characters – so if you’re someone who reads primarily for characters, like me, I wouldn’t recommend this. However, if you’re someone who appreciates extensive research and can handle the many intense, disturbing, historically accurate acts of violence that cannot be separated from any story about slavery in the American South, maybe you might want to read this book.
Verdict: Meh. I can’t really say. I mean, I kind of hated this book, but I also respect it, so whatever. Do what you want, I’m not your mom.
Best lines: A lot of good ones, for a book I didn’t really like. Whitehead’s good with the words. One of my faves: :”There was an order of misery, misery tucked inside miseries, and you were meant to keep track.”
Rating: 5 out of 10 broken railroad tracks. I dunno.
ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: I guess this is a really excellent TEACHABLE MOMENT (*teachable moment alarm sounds*) (it sounds a lot like sad trombone sound). As S. R. Ranganathan said in his 1931 theory, the Five Laws of Library Science, every reader her book, every book its reader. I was not this book’s reader, but I am very certain there are many, many people who are.
And now a word from my loyal familiar:
Okay. I am on my way to Luchresi. Later, gators.