The Underground Railroad (Television Tie-in): A Novel Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2017
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.
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 43 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||August 02, 2016|
|Publisher||Random House Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #2,404 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#27 in Black & African American Historical Fiction (Books)
#31 in African American Literature
#157 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2021
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Top reviews from the United States
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Incomplete sentences abound. Paragraphs introduced by pronouns." "The sounds that came from his body made the labor fly." WHAT? Sounds made labor "fly?" I have several pages of examples of Whitehead's poor writing. "Cora looked at him. Burr-headed and red-eyed." Who was burr-headed and red-eyed? (I know, and so do you, but it is not clear, clean writing.) "In those days he patrolled with a black umbrella but eventually surrendered and now his white blouses were stark against his tanned flesh." (Surrendered his umbrella? Which had obscured his white blouses?) I am astonished that this won the Pulitzer. It's an insult to writers who strive to craft a well-written piece of work. Two thumbs and all fingers down on this one.
Top reviews from other countries
Whilst the novel does have literary pretensions, the story ultimately becomes an edge-of-the seat page turning thriller. I can understand why some reviewers found the initial chapters difficult but the book evolves into something that is hugely descriptive and with a sense of danger and menace which permeates the novel like nothing else I have ever read. Whilst the whole concept of an actual underground railway is an elaborate twist on the name given to a network dedicated to rescuing escaped slaves, there is a lot of historical research which has gone in to this book as well as references to later incidents such as the notorious Tuskegee Experiment.
The book is often uncomfortable and there is an underlying and understandable resentment of the racist nature of America and the battles it's black population had to overcome to assert themselves. This is a novel that does not withhold it's punches yet offers up a mirror to American society today. I would have to say that the novel is like a tapestry where the various elements eventually coalesce and you are taken on a journey which is often fascinating, repellent and rewarding depending upon which chapter you are reading. The villains in the piece are repugnant and menacing. Ridgeway is one of the most believable villains I have encountered in a book. Not all the white characters are bad and it is nice to see that things are so nuanced. The detestable Homer is scary because his motives are never really explained. Not sure why a macabre black boy should work for a slave catcher.
I am usually quite negative about American literature. In the past I have been disappointed by writers such as Scot F Fitzgerald who are deemed to represent the "American experience." As a rule, I avoid American writers due to these feelings. Having said this, I would have to say that this book represents exactly how I feel about America. The white characters are especially well drawn in this novel and this appertains to both the liberal characters and racists described within this book. Even those who appear to have good intentions transpire to be misguided.
At the end of the day, what sells this book for me is the fact that you want to talk about it and tell everyone how good it is after you have finished it. It really sticks in your mind, If it has a flaw, it is that there is a sense of foreboding throughout the book which makes you rush through the pages. This means that you sometimes miss the beauty in the language. Deemed a "science fiction " novel, this is somewhat of a miscasting as I feel this is a book that everyone needs to read. This would make a terrific film but I would urge anyone who loves books to pick this novel up and give it a try before it hits the big screen. Thoroughly recommended.
The narrative of Cora's escape across five states becomes a sombre and nuanced exploration of the toxic effect of slavery, especially plantation slavery, on the whole of American society, with figures like Martin and Homer serving to illustrate the diversity of human responses to the enveloping nightmare.
I had a mixed reaction to the magic realism of the railroad and to a lesser extent the South Carolina sequence. It was daring on Whitehead's part, because he ran the risk of destroying his book's credibility. I can understand why some readers abandoned the novel at that point. But on balance I thought it worked, adding an invigorating extra dimension.
The only flaw was the rather muted ending, which lacked the self confidence and panache of the rest of the novel.
366 pages, split into 12 chapters, the titles of which show the progression to The North.
Disappointingly, I found this book to be really hard going. There is no doubt that it is a worthy subject and it is well written but I found it very difficult to connect with anything at all in the novel.
It almost feels shameful to not want to read about the terrors of slavery but it seemed that the author was writing for literary praise without concentrating on engaging with the average reader.
The parallel world was a bit odd and gave the novel a disjointed impression which did not flow well at all. I'm sure there was something deep going on but it passed me by and I won;t recommend this book to anyone else.
This period in American history is unfamiliar to me and I needed more context to be able to place the characters. Here we are thrown into a situation and expected to work everything out which lessened the powerful effect of the story.
The writing is lyrical and poetic and crafted with care and a real sense of artistry. The story is utterly compelling and takes a real grip early on and never lets it's tightness ease. The characters are crafted with care and loving attention and their stories draw massive emotional responses. It's hard to fathom the evil and totality of the Slavery Experience, it's savagery and ruthlessness and the way it pock marked itself so deeply into the culture of The South-and beyond. It's impact reasonates today causing a torrent of complex problems & challenges for modern day America.
This is a bleak read but it also inspires as the central characters try to retain their dignity and Hope in a period of unrelenting primeval savagery.
The pace of the book is fierce and you root for the Slaves. There are one or two moments of exhilaration amidst the despair and murderous culture.
Parts of the book ride a rocky road in trying to stretch the debate between the protagonists and for me the weakest section is in the interchange between the Slave Catcher ,Ridgeway, and Cara. That part just doesn't work.
But it's a rare moment in an otherwise superlative read. This is a simply magnificent book which is beautifully written, imaginatively constructed and powerfully realised.
Highly recommended and one of my Books of the Decade.
Slavery was and is totally awful and it is a story of cruelty for economic gain and the result of seeing people as less than human - this being the basis of appalling racism. There were a few episodes that capture the horror and brutality of it and I fearful of being seen as someone who trivialises it but in a strange way the book does that.
Cora just like Dick Barton was save at the last moment when somehow a saviour or saviours turned up. This made it certain that she would ride off into the sunset. Those who died brutal deaths and who remain as a scar on the people who used slavery so casually got lost in this book.