The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Colson Whitehead is one of the novelists whose books I have been meaning to read, but I couldn't quite pin down his genre. Besides being a Pulitzer Prize finalist, he also has a book about zombies. So when The Underground Railroad appeared (even before Oprah put her badge on it), I decided this was the time for me to read this book.
But did I ever have a "Wayminute" moment. By the time I got into the book I realized this was not the Underground Railroad I learned about during "Negro History Week" in seventh grade from a teacher who ignored the official curriculum and taught us about the way runaways were transported through cellars and hidden in attics to escape to the "free states." What we learned about was the "virtual" railroad. Whitehead's railroad is a physical railroad with a real train and conductors.
The story centers around Cora, an orphaned child whose mother had escaped the Randall plantation in Georgia, never to be seen again. When Cora is older she escapes to South Carolina, where she is given a new name, a job as a housekeeper, and lodging in a dormitory with other young women. This is all through a project financed by the US Government. And I thought zombies were far out.
Cora's nemesis is a relentless slave-catcher named Ridgeway. When she thinks she has gotten away, there he is again, ready to return her to Georgia.
There are some fascinating twist and turns throughout the story, some giving real hope for Cora.
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