Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
My rating: 4/5 stars

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape.

Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey…Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. 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)


The Underground Railroad was an extremely difficult book to read and get through. Personally, I tend to stay away from slave narratives – including movies – because it’s exhausting, horrific, and triggering. It makes me want to rant and rage and this is exactly how I feel after reading this book. I felt exhausted and angry about the horrors of slavery and for that reason, I can’t say this was an enjoyable read. It was a brutal ride.

The Underground Railroad is one of the most well-researched books I’ve ever read. Whitehead does an excellent job portraying the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, slavery, and America’s role as a slave nation with historical accuracy. There were times when I had to pause the audiobook to take a moment to regroup because this was impossible to get through without feeling devastated and downright angry.

I thought it was unique that “The Underground Railroad” was an actual train. I loved this creative concept and it’s allegory. Unfortunately, I don’t think the train was developed as much as I had hoped. It was introduced so fast and not well explained. Things happened quickly in this book. There were times I found myself asking, “Wait, what just happened? Is he/she dead?” I think an underdeveloped aspect of this book was Cora. Considering this is her story, I felt like I never really got to know her and would have preferred a first person narrative. I also feel like I never got to know the side characters. I read this book as an audiobook, so the interlude and flashback scenes were a little confusing at times.

This is an excellent book with excellent writing and a nice introduction to Colson Whitehead’s writing and style.

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