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.
GOODREADS RATING – 4.02/5 STARS
I read this for my contemporary fiction module for university and was apprehensive as I usually struggle to read novels about slavery in the US. Despite my initial reservations, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Whitehead’s novel was fast-paced and character-driven which is something that I truly enjoyed. A lot of novels that I have read on a similar topic often have a lot of descriptive passages which sometimes lose my interest. The constant moves, the tense situation, the powerful and likeable characters, etc; all made this novel truly great.
The plot twist, in the end, took me by surprise and I found the novel to be more powerful with the final revelation. Overall, I would definitely recommend this as it is a great theme, with a great steampunk/sci-fi element.
Rating – 4/5 stars.