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The Underground Railroad: A Novel Paperback – January 30, 2016
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“An American masterpiece.” —NPR
“Stunningly daring.” —The New York Times Book Review
"A triumph." —The Washington Post
“Potent. . . . Devastating. . . . Essential.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Whitehead's best work and an important American novel.” —The Boston Globe
“Electrifying. . . . Tense, graphic, uplifting and informed, this is a story to share and remember.” —People
“Heart-stopping.” —Oprah Winfrey
“The Underground Railroad is inquiring into the very soul of American democracy. . . . A stirring exploration of the American experiment.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A brilliant reimagining of antebellum America.”—The New Republic
“Colson Whitehead’s book blends the fanciful and the horrific, the deeply emotional and the coolly intellectual. Whathe comes up with is an American masterpiece.”—Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
“The Underground Railroad enters the pantheon of . . . the Great American Novels. . . . A wonderful reminder of whatgreat literature is supposed to do: open our eyes, challengeus, and leave us changed by the end.” —Esquire
“[Whitehead] is the best living American novelist.”—Chicago Tribune
“Masterful, urgent. . . . One of the finest novels written aboutour country’s still unabsolved original sin.” —USA Today
“Brilliant. . . . An instant classic that makes vivid the darkest, most horrific corners of America’s history of brutality against black people.” —HuffPost
“Singular, utterly riveting. . . . You’ll be shaken and stunned by Whitehead’s imaginative brilliance. . . . The Underground Railroad is a book both timeless and timely. It is a book for now; it is a book that is necessary.” —BuzzFeed
“Whitehead is a writer of extraordinary stylistic powers. . . . [The Underground Railroad] offers many testaments to Whitehead’s considerable talents and examines a deeply relevant and disturbing period of American history.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“[An] ingenious novel. . . . A successful amalgam: a realistically imagined slave narrative and a crafty allegory; a tense adventure tale and a meditation on America’s defining values.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Whitehead’s novel unflinchingly turns our attention to the foundations of the America we know now.” —Elle
“Perfectly balances the realism of its subject with fabulist touches that render it freshly illuminating.” —Time
“I haven’t been as simultaneously moved and entertained bya book for many years. This is a luminous, furious, wildly inventive tale that not only shines a bright light on one of the darkest periods of history, but also opens up thrilling new vistas for the form of the novel itself.”—Alex Preston, The Guardian
About the Author
- Publisher : Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; Reprint edition (January 30, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0345804325
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345804327
- Lexile measure : 890L
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.93 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #64 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Incomplete sentences abound. Paragraphs introduced by pronouns." "The sounds that came from his body made the labor fly." WHAT? Sounds made labor "fly?" I have several pages of examples of Whitehead's poor writing. "Cora looked at him. Burr-headed and red-eyed." Who was burr-headed and red-eyed? (I know, and so do you, but it is not clear, clean writing.) "In those days he patrolled with a black umbrella but eventually surrendered and now his white blouses were stark against his tanned flesh." (Surrendered his umbrella? Which had obscured his white blouses?) I am astonished that this won the Pulitzer. It's an insult to writers who strive to craft a well-written piece of work. Two thumbs and all fingers down on this one.
Top reviews from other countries
Whilst the novel does have literary pretensions, the story ultimately becomes an edge-of-the seat page turning thriller. I can understand why some reviewers found the initial chapters difficult but the book evolves into something that is hugely descriptive and with a sense of danger and menace which permeates the novel like nothing else I have ever read. Whilst the whole concept of an actual underground railway is an elaborate twist on the name given to a network dedicated to rescuing escaped slaves, there is a lot of historical research which has gone in to this book as well as references to later incidents such as the notorious Tuskegee Experiment.
The book is often uncomfortable and there is an underlying and understandable resentment of the racist nature of America and the battles it's black population had to overcome to assert themselves. This is a novel that does not withhold it's punches yet offers up a mirror to American society today. I would have to say that the novel is like a tapestry where the various elements eventually coalesce and you are taken on a journey which is often fascinating, repellent and rewarding depending upon which chapter you are reading. The villains in the piece are repugnant and menacing. Ridgeway is one of the most believable villains I have encountered in a book. Not all the white characters are bad and it is nice to see that things are so nuanced. The detestable Homer is scary because his motives are never really explained. Not sure why a macabre black boy should work for a slave catcher.
I am usually quite negative about American literature. In the past I have been disappointed by writers such as Scot F Fitzgerald who are deemed to represent the "American experience." As a rule, I avoid American writers due to these feelings. Having said this, I would have to say that this book represents exactly how I feel about America. The white characters are especially well drawn in this novel and this appertains to both the liberal characters and racists described within this book. Even those who appear to have good intentions transpire to be misguided.
At the end of the day, what sells this book for me is the fact that you want to talk about it and tell everyone how good it is after you have finished it. It really sticks in your mind, If it has a flaw, it is that there is a sense of foreboding throughout the book which makes you rush through the pages. This means that you sometimes miss the beauty in the language. Deemed a "science fiction " novel, this is somewhat of a miscasting as I feel this is a book that everyone needs to read. This would make a terrific film but I would urge anyone who loves books to pick this novel up and give it a try before it hits the big screen. Thoroughly recommended.
The narrative of Cora's escape across five states becomes a sombre and nuanced exploration of the toxic effect of slavery, especially plantation slavery, on the whole of American society, with figures like Martin and Homer serving to illustrate the diversity of human responses to the enveloping nightmare.
I had a mixed reaction to the magic realism of the railroad and to a lesser extent the South Carolina sequence. It was daring on Whitehead's part, because he ran the risk of destroying his book's credibility. I can understand why some readers abandoned the novel at that point. But on balance I thought it worked, adding an invigorating extra dimension.
The only flaw was the rather muted ending, which lacked the self confidence and panache of the rest of the novel.
The writing is lyrical and poetic and crafted with care and a real sense of artistry. The story is utterly compelling and takes a real grip early on and never lets it's tightness ease. The characters are crafted with care and loving attention and their stories draw massive emotional responses. It's hard to fathom the evil and totality of the Slavery Experience, it's savagery and ruthlessness and the way it pock marked itself so deeply into the culture of The South-and beyond. It's impact reasonates today causing a torrent of complex problems & challenges for modern day America.
This is a bleak read but it also inspires as the central characters try to retain their dignity and Hope in a period of unrelenting primeval savagery.
The pace of the book is fierce and you root for the Slaves. There are one or two moments of exhilaration amidst the despair and murderous culture.
Parts of the book ride a rocky road in trying to stretch the debate between the protagonists and for me the weakest section is in the interchange between the Slave Catcher ,Ridgeway, and Cara. That part just doesn't work.
But it's a rare moment in an otherwise superlative read. This is a simply magnificent book which is beautifully written, imaginatively constructed and powerfully realised.
Highly recommended and one of my Books of the Decade.
Slavery was and is totally awful and it is a story of cruelty for economic gain and the result of seeing people as less than human - this being the basis of appalling racism. There were a few episodes that capture the horror and brutality of it and I fearful of being seen as someone who trivialises it but in a strange way the book does that.
Cora just like Dick Barton was save at the last moment when somehow a saviour or saviours turned up. This made it certain that she would ride off into the sunset. Those who died brutal deaths and who remain as a scar on the people who used slavery so casually got lost in this book.
And, it really was a heartfelt story which deals with a very important subject. As you may know, the Underground Railroad was set up by abolitionists to bring slaves to the free states via a secret network of safe houses and transportation. Whitehead plays around with the traditional notion of the railroad, creating a quite literal “Underground Railroad” with secret stations and train drivers which was a really clever addition.
The novel is set during the 1800’s and begins on a slave plantation in Georgia. It follows Cora and Caesar who seek to escape using Whitehead’s version of the Railroad to gain their freedom.
Needless to say, their bid for freedom is epic and is something that you can’t help but live with Cora, it really sucked me in! On her journey, she is hunted by slave catchers seeking the bounty set out by her “owner.” There is one notorious Catcher called Ridgeway who makes it his mission not to let Cora have her freedom.
Does he succeed? You’ll have to read it to find out I’m afraid…
That said, this novel really highlighted the people across America willing to risk their own lives to help the slaves obtain freedom.
It really is a real page-turner from start to finish and covers themes of self-discovery, family, identity, and the huge divide between two halves of America. A story with lots of ups and downs and twists and turns as Cora attempts to see the “Real America” via the Underground Railroad.
My only suggestion is to lose the one-word quote from Barack Obama on the cover, it really doesn’t need it.