The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is about Cora, a young girl who escapes with another slave named Caesar the horrors of living on a plantation in Georgia. With the help of the Underground Railroad and several of its volunteers, Cora and Caesar escape to South Carolina. However, close on their heels is Ridgeway, a slave catcher who failed to track down Cora’s mother after her escape from the same plantation, and who is even more determined to bring Cora back to her owner.
My thoughts …
* MAY CONTAINS SPOILERS
SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME
In my #Readathon post, I mentioned it was difficult for me not to compare Cora to Aminata, the central character from Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. Both women suffer terribly, but Aminata is such a dynamic character, so wise and strong. As much as I wanted Cora to survive her ordeal, I found she lacked any significant characteristics.
THE SUBPLOT HAS LEFT THE STATION
Shortly after Cora and Caesar escape, my interest in the story started to lag until it is revealed there may be some nefarious activities taking place in their new South Carolina home involving secret medical procedures on the black population. I became really excited. This was new! This was something different! But this plot went absolutely nowhere and then died.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
The actual Underground Railroad only has a minor role in this book. The title gave me the impression I might learn a lot more about the famous network, but the white abolitionists helping Cora and Caesar only know enough about the network to help slaves at their particular station. I was disappointed and felt like this was a wasted opportunity to explore the rich and fascinating history of a network that saved thousands of lives.
As you probably know, The Underground Railroad is nominated for the National Book Award and Carnegie Medal, is an Oprah Book Club pick and a New York Times bestseller. The bookish world has really been falling at the feet of this book with adoration. While the story was satisfactory and historically meaningful, I can’t say I agree that the book deserves the glowing accolades. It was just okay.