My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was not what I expected. The Underground Railroad here is represented by an actual, rails and sleepers, railroad that moves through an impossible series of tunnels spiriting runaway slaves away to lives away from servitude and abuse. Told mostly through the eyes of Cora, the daughter of a slave, who wants more for herself than her masters will ever give. Cora’s road to freedom is a difficult and harsh one, and there are no punches pulled in Whitehead’s depiction of the slaves’ existence. Constantly referred to as “it”, and treated as chattel, the life of Cora and her friends Lovey and Caesar are horrendous. Ultimately there are signs of humanity amidst the carnage but, as it was no doubt in reality, these are rare and short-lived.
The Underground Railroad is a tale that keeps you reading, even though you know things are not going to improve quickly for the protagonists. The slave catcher, Ridgeway, is also compelling because he represents and exemplifies the mindset that allowed the vile slave trade to prosper in the Southern states of the newly independent nation.
Read it to see why it deserved the Pulitzer in 2017.