Book 7: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

What’s left to say about this one?

The most critically-acclaimed book of 2016 was also one of those rare literary novels to achieve mainstream commcerical success – thanks in no small part to a glowing endorsement from some woman named Oprah Winfrey.

Does it deserve all the attention and adulation? Mostly it does, yes.

I’ve only tried one Whitehead novel before this: his attempt at a serious zombie novel, Zone One. While I respected the attempt to bring literary cred to a pulpy genre, it wasn’t a particularly successful experiment – the characters were flat and the plot  lifeless, no pun intended.

This is much better. It’s a slavery tale, as the title suggests, and that comes with all you’d expect: brutal – though thankfully never exploitative – violence and racial politics with just as much to say about the America of today as the America of the 1860s. Here though, the railroad is real: not just the name given to the network of Northerners who helped smuggle slaves out of the South, but a literal railroad.

It’s a neat little trick that adds allegorical power – and a dash of magic realism – to what might otherwise be a rote, depressing tale about Cora, a plantation slave who finds that escape does not necessarily equal freedom.

Read it.

Author: adamgartrell

Political journalist drowning in books

3 thoughts on “Book 7: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead”

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