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The Underground Railroad Reviews

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

5.00 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Fleet
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publication date: 26 Apr 2017
ISBN: 9780708898406

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent, wrenching, thrilling tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North. In Whitehead's razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can.

2 Prizes for The Underground Railroad

The Bookseller Podcast
The Book Doctors' Recommendations

Ian Cawley from Rother Books in Battle in East Sussex said: "It's just brilliantly written. The sheer horror of slavery in the US is just atrocious. He brings it to life because he writes so beautifully. You can see why Barack Obama loved it."

Georgia Duffy, owner of Imagined Things in Harrowgate, said: "It looks at the horror of the time... but it's partly an allegory, bits of fantasy, too, but not in a way to diminish what happened. I think it's a really important novel."

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Radio 4
Selection: Book at Bedtime

Colson Whitehead's inventive novel follows Cora and Caesar as they escape from a Georgia slave plantation and run north in pursuit of freedom, aided by the stationmasters and conductors of the Underground Railroad. 

This brilliant and at times brutal novel about the history of slavery and racism in America, which won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 2016.


5 stars out of 5
Nicholas Lezard
11 Aug 2017

"This is a shocking and imaginative story of slavery and suffering"

For all that this is a novel in which a different reality from the actual record arises, this is a work rooted very much in real history, real suffering. Whitehead’s acknowledgments extend to Franklin D Roosevelt “for funding the Federal Writers’ project, which collected the life stories of former slaves in the 1930s”. The advertisements offering rewards for the capture of runaway slaves that punctuate the book are taken from the digital collections of the University of North Carolina. There is much that is shocking in this gripping and important novel, but there are times when it feels as though these deadpan notices, plucked from reality, are the most shocking of all.

  • The GuardianBook of the Year
5 stars out of 5
Alex Preston
9 Oct 2016

"luminous, furious and wildly inventive"

As if we needed any more reason to mourn the passing of Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s difficult to believe that either of his potential successors will share his fine taste in books. His 2016 summer holiday reading – released by the White House’s press department – not only included Helen Macdonald’s sublime H Is for Hawk, but also Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Bringing this brutal, vital, devastating novel to a wider audience (it has also been selected by Oprah’s book club) will not be the least of Obama’s legacies...I haven’t been as simultaneously moved and entertained by a 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.

5 stars out of 5
Michiko Kakutani
2 Aug 2016

"a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery"

In his dynamic new novel, Colson Whitehead takes the Underground Railroad — the loosely interlocking network of black and white activists who helped slaves escape to freedom in the decades before the Civil War — and turns it from a metaphor into an actual train that ferries fugitives northward.

The result is a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery. It possesses the chilling, matter-of-fact power of the slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, with echoes of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” and with brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift... Mr. Whitehead communicates the horrors of slavery and its toxic legacy rumbling on down the years. At the same time, he memorializes the yearning for freedom that spurs one generation after another to persevere in the search for justice — despite threats and intimidation, despite reversals and efforts to turn back the clock. He has told a story essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present.