Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Staff Picks: The Underground Railroad

By now you’ve at least heard of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, as it launched as an Oprah Book Club selection, won the National Book Award for Fiction, and has ended up on multiple best-of-the-year lists. What gets lost under the growing pile of accolades, though, is just how readable the book is. The story of Cora’s harrowing journey through the American South is told as equal parts adventure yarn and alt-history fantasy. Colson Whitehead plays fast and loose with American history to explore American’s fraught racial past in a surprisingly imaginative way.

Central to the novel’s reimagined past is a very literal approach to the Underground Railroad itself. This is a railroad in its truest sense with tracks, train stations, station masters, and a chugging locomotive. Cora, after escaping her enslavement on a plantation in Georgia, uses this subterranean escape route to find a new life in a number of different Southern states. However, in Whitehead’s reimagined America, the Civil War never appears to have happened, and instead each state has dealt with the issue of slavery in its own unique, and often horrible, way.

Cora’s desperate race to freedom is also complicated by the vicious slave catcher, Ridgeway. After failing to find Cora’s escaped mother, Ridgeway is relentless in his pursuit of young Cora and unfeeling for those who stand in his way. Cora meets many fellow escapees and a number of white men and women who offer varying degrees of help or hindrance on her journey, each with complex motivations and backgrounds. By rearranging the past, Cora’s journey in The Underground Railroad is able to provide a thoughtful condemnation of not just slavery itself, but the whole of America’s checkered racial past.

The Book Buzz Book Club will be discussing this novel at the Cumming Library on Thursday, February 9. We’d love to have you drop in and talk about it with your fellow readers.

Ross Gericke
Branch Manager
Hampton Park Library

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