Friday, June 17, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead- Book Review

I was so happy when NetGalley* approved me to be able to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead early. Like Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Underground Railroad was on my most anticipated reading list. I was just introduced to Colson Whitehead through his book Zone One which was a fantastic post apocalyptic zombie like book. So, when I heard he was writing a book about slavery, I knew it was going to be a good one.

The Underground Railroad is the story of Cora a slave who is willing to take a beating for another slave. That is the type of person she is. She is a strong woman and the daughter of an escaped slave mother. Her destiny is not to be a slave any longer.

A fellow slave Caesar, sees Cora and tells her about an Underground Railroad, a physical railroad- tracks, train, etc that helps slaves run. He and Cora decide to escape one evening as well as one other and attempt to make it to the train.

In the meantime, a slave hunter, Kennedy has been hired to find Cora and bring her back to her master. Kennedy is a ruthless hunter who will do anything to find his capture. He refers to slaves as "it" and treats them as beneath him. He is on her tail and will do anything to capture her.

The book itself is a treat to read. Whitehead is a very skilled writer and a wonderful storyteller. There were a few parts that seemed to drag a bit, but they did not drag too long. His characters come to life and Cora grows throughout the book. She is driven to be free and nothing is going to stop her, not even Kennedy who's legacy grows the further she runs.

Parts of this book are almost cliche and have been told before, especially the parts that take place on the farm, but I think they need to be, so the book can take things in a different direction. The reader has to get comfortable, so that when things start to change, the reader too is stirred up.

As I was reading, I couldn't help but think about the story of undocumented immigrants, especially in today's political climate. There were so many parts of this narrative that made me think about the similarities, such as they physical underground way of moving around, the constant fear of being caught, the language of "them" rather than people. I will write that I am not sure Whitehead intended that, but I could not help reading the book without drawing from stories I have heard from undocumented immigrants. It is difficult to get settled and one doesn't want to get too comfortable. Comfort mean danger.

I will also write that I read this right alongside of Homegoing and Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott, who all tell similar stories of struggle for African Americans in the US. I think many will compare this book to Homegoing, but I looked at The Underground Railroad as a companion piece that made nice bookends. Homegoing is out now and The Underground Railroad will not be out until September, so they will remind readers of the same story of the struggle of African Americans during the time of slavery and into today. There is also Underground Airlines coming in July by a Caucasian writer, who looks at an alternative universe where slavery wasn't abolished. I wasn't approved to read that one early, so I will wait until July to see how that one fits into this grouping.

The Underground Railroad is definitely worth your time, especially if you are a fan of Colson Whitehead. It is another book that gets a huge check mark in his many wonderful books. The UR is a difficult story to read and will challenge many readers. There are a few dragging parts, but as a whole it is a wonderful narrative and Cora is a great character.

I gave this one 4.5 stars.

Amazon Link- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

*I received this advanced copy to review for free from NetGalley. I do not have to give a favorable review, but do have to inform the reader of the way I received the book. I also did not see a restriction on reviewing the book early, but this review may come down if I am in violation of something. My apologies if I was not supposed to post early, it was a simple mistake.

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