The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
The Last Word Review
When I finished reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead I knew that I would struggle for days after. A book that not just gets into every pore of your skin but a lot deeper than that, into your very soul. One book I shall remember for a very long time.
Sometimes to understand the current problems of the current world we live in it takes a novel like Colson’s latest in The Underground Railroad for us to understand our past and were we come from. Set in the years before the Civil War and the sheer horror that was the slave trade this is a story that leaves you in a very dark place where you wonder about the world we live in, even in today’s world.
Georgia and a cotton plantation and Cora a young slave woman is having to deal with the fact of the brutality of being a slave she has witnessed pure evil and also the fact her mother abandoned her when she ran away. Now Cora knows that she faces a life of being a slave and as she knows the fate that awaits her. When she approached by another slave and he talks of the underground railroad Cora’s mind is made up. For Cora a teenage slave girl escaping to the unknown is a brave step into the unknown. Cora now has no choice but to run away her life will never be the same as she is now hunted and not just for escaping. When you have the dreaded slave catcher on your trail you have to run and keep running. The underground railroad is your only hope and salvation.
At times this is not an easy read there are some rather difficult themes to deal with and Colson’s imagination that has turned this into a haunting novel. On Cora’s journey she arrives in one town to what seems like a horror movie scene were what can only be seen as genocide is taking place. Both slaves and anyone caught helping them left hanging from trees as a message to those who think of doing similar and also stench of burning flesh fills the air. The story eloquently shifts from one moment on the surface to a land and a railroad and even stations that run underneath it. The underground railroad actually existed but ‘figuratively’ speaking and how Colson has used history to create this underground railroad into a novel that will affect anyone who reads it.
It is not normal for me to feel a sheer emptiness in the pit of my stomach when reading a novel but the more I read the more it became a tight knotted feeling. The Underground Railroad has been receiving some of the highest praise from President Obama to Oprah Winfrey and many more. Is this a book that deserves this praise? Without doubt the praise is well deserved. This is an extremely brave book as Colson has taken history and created a story to attempted to talk to the world that we live in of the horrors of humanity. To this degree it is a brave book but one that I have no doubt when many read this and the message will be passed to others who will then pick up The Underground Railroad and so in hope the message will go far and wide.
At the end I was left bereft of anything, so many questions I wanted to ask but the words would not come. I was left numb and exhausted by Colson’s mix history mixed with story. Reading The Underground Railroad left me feeling I was staring into the darkest of all nights with no hope of any daylight to come. A brave and important book and one that should not be overlooked.
Thank you to Fleet for the advanced review copy.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is published by Fleet and is now available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.