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The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead


Overview - The Newest Oprah Book Club 2016 Selection

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia.
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More About The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
 
 
 
Overview
The Newest Oprah Book Club 2016 Selection

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell 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—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. 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. And 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.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. 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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780385542364
  • ISBN-10: 0385542364
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books
  • Publish Date: August 2016
  • Page Count: 320
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary

 
BookPage Reviews

A daring modern masterpiece

BookPage Fiction Top Pick, September 2016

A cursory peek into his backlist reveals that there is no such thing as a “typical” Colson Whitehead novel. Having tackled everything from post-apocalyptic zombie horror to jocular coming-of-age shenanigans in the Hamptons, this prizewinning author seems to have the philosophy that big risk equals big reward. So it should come as no surprise that The Underground Railroad, his sixth novel, is not only his most daring but also his very best—and most important—book to date. It’s also the latest selection of Oprah’s Book Club.

In The Underground Railroad, Whitehead dives into the past for the first time, transporting readers back to pre-Civil War America and the plantations of the South. We are introduced to Cora, a third-generation slave in Georgia who has never set foot off her master’s property and for whom the idea of fleeing is unthinkable—that is, until a fellow slave, Caesar, approaches her about hitching a ride on the rumored Underground Railroad to the North. With a ruthless slave catcher hot on their heels, they embark on a perilous journey through America in search of a freedom that feels increasingly elusive.

A sly reframing of Gulliver’s Travels within the traditional black slave narrative, The Underground Railroad is an arresting tale that puts Whitehead’s imagination and intelligence on full display. His inspired decision to have Cora adventure through the South by means of a literal subterranean locomotive suffuses the narrative with a fable-like quality, but Whitehead’s overall approach is far from whimsical. Throughout her journey, Cora is confronted with some of the most disgraceful facets of the period, from eugenics programs to the Fugitive Slave Act, and the narrative is frequently grim.

Whitehead exercises his artistic license, deviating from the historical record to create an augmented reality. But his skillful balancing of intellect and fact with emotion and highly nuanced storytelling only makes the meditation on the insidious values that allow prejudice and brutality to continue to flourish all the more indelible. Chilling in its timeliness, The Underground Railroad is a devastating  literary masterpiece that should be considered required reading.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our interview with Colson Whitehead on The Underground Railroad.

 
BAM Customer Reviews