My Thoughts On The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I didn’t think I would like this book at first. Books with a lot of hype, a lot of readership, and a few awards scare me. What if I read it and I don’t like it? What if it’s all my writing pet peeves? I’ve disliked a lot of Pulitzer Prize winning novels over the years and tend to stay clear of them. But, my online book club picked The Underground Railroad for our monthly book and so I read it. I absolutely loved it.

The back of the book describes this story as a Gulliver’s Travels type, but instead of some dude traipsing through a fantasy it’s a slave woman trying to find herself freedom during the height of slavery in America.

Cora, our main character, is the focus of this story. It starts with her decision to run away with her friend, Caesar. You get a small glimpse of the life she lived before that question arose. She was a slave on a massive cotton plantation exposed to whippings, sexual assault, abandonment, and fear. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her. She was actually considered an outcast for having a mother who successfully ran away and abandoned her there. While it was hell, she thought life on the plantation was good. That is, until her master died and someone else took up the helm. This was when she decided to leave.

Ceasar and Cora escape to the Underground Railroad, which in this book is an actual train going underground. I seriously was imagining it as a metaphor and not an actual train, but when they got into the small boxcar it only seemed logical to have an underground train. I was so happy for Cora to get out of the Randall plantation and seek out her freedom, but this book made me really realize that the journey to freedom was never easy.

At each stop Cora made, she found herself in some deeper level of Hell. Each place she visited while did take her further and further from her plantation was just wrought with some terrible thing for Black people. Cora would feel safe for a small amount of time until something disrupts her peace and sends her running again.

On top of every stop she made, there was a slave-catcher hunting her down. Not only was she landing in these cities that eventually crumble her hopes of freedom, but she also has to run from a man trying to take her back to Georgia. I loved her ability to survive through all of this and still hope to gain her freedom, but I can’t imagine the emotional, physical, and mental burden she takes on as she loses friends on her trip.

As for Colson Whitehead’s writing style, I actually loved it. I was afraid it would be overwrought or dry, but he wrote with brilliance including actual advertisements for runaway slaves. Those little snippets really pulled the story together and made it much more real to me. This was such a great book and I loved it.

9 thoughts on “My Thoughts On The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

  1. I bought this book last year and haven’t been able to get past the first few pages, your review inspired me tho 😂 I’ll have to pick it back up! Great review!

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  2. I felt the same way. Reluctantly read it as it was also the pick for another book club I follow but ended up enjoying Cora’s journey way more than I thought I would. The things she was forced to go through were horrific but she somehow kept her hope that it was all going to work out for her.

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    1. Yes! Exactly! She just kept going despite all the hardship she came across. I kind of admire her for that, but also the horrors she saw were some scary freaking things!

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  3. The hype has been keeping me away from this as I’m not a fan of reading hyped things, at least not until the hype has dissipated a bit, but the notion of there being an actual train does have me a bit more intrigued (I didn’t know about that before). I’ll have to see if I can sneak it away from the library shelves when I get time.

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    1. Oh yeah, in this book the “underground railroad” is an actual train underground. It’s one part of it, but I also feel like it was a magical element of sorts.

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  4. I have a feeling you’d love The Book Of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. It’s similar in story to The Underground Railroad, but it’s got no magical realism to it. It’s more of a realistic look at slavery. It’s a beautiful story and a book that I’ve never forgotten over the years since I read it. I always recommend it to people.

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