Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Winner of this year’s National Book Award, this novel imagines the “underground railroad” as an actual subterranean railway, not just a series of safe houses on the way north to freedom.  The author uses this physical train to take his characters, primarily the runaway slave, Cora, from station to station, each illustrating an aspect of white America’s mistreatment of African Americans since they first were brought here as slaves.  There’s life on a cotton plantation.  There’s exploitation as living displays behind glass in dioramas illustrating various savage customs.  There are references to forced sterilization and medical experimentation.  It’s all here and pretty overwhelmingly depressing.  It’s an important book.  I can’t say I “enjoyed” it or found the writing particularly inspired, but it should be read for the message if not the grace of its prose.  320 pp.

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