The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I have a rule to avoid any book Oprah endorses. It’s not that they aren’t good books, it’s that they are usually horribly depressing and make me want to cry. But when your book club picks one it’s hard to say no and overall I’m glad I read this one.
Cora is persuaded to leave the plantation she was born on in Georgia by Caesar. He feels she is good luck because her mother escaped years before and was never caught and returned by the slave catchers. Cora doesn’t want to chance it, she doesn’t feel lucky, but an incident gives her the strength to try to escape. The two find passage on the Underground Railroad to South Carolina and it is there that Cora’s journey to freedom begins.
I loved that the author altered history and made the underground railroad an actual railroad with underground stations, spurs, lines, schedules and locomotives. I remember as I kid thinking that is what it actually was and I’m sure other schoolchildren made the same initial mistake. Whisking Cora from one state to another swiftly on the railroad made the narrative really move and by her moving to so many states the attitudes of each state were able to be brought into the narrative. It was the differences between each state that really made the book riveting for me, the atrocities were awful and very hard to read, but the imagination the author brought to the tolerance of each state was interesting and showed the compassion of the station masters as well as the resourcefulness (and luck) within Cora.