The Underground Railroad
Mr B's review
A woman’s escape from bondage and a country’s reckoning with history; a sizzling thriller and furious examination of slavery in the USA. Cora escapes from a Georgia plantation on the inventively-reimagined underground railroad, only to arrive in a South Carolina whose calm surface masks an infernal scheme for its ‘free’ black inhabitants. Meanwhile, Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, snaps at her heels. In genre-defying prose, Whitehead recreates the unique terrors facing black people in the pre-Civil War era.
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION 2017
WINNER OF THE ARTHUR C. CLARKE AWARD 2017
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER 2016
AMAZON.COM #1 BOOK OF THE YEAR 2016
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
‘Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime’ Guardian
‘Luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year’ Stylist
‘Dazzling’ New York Review of Books
Praised by Barack Obama and an Oprah Book Club Pick, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award 2016 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017.
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. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.
Hard-driving, laser-sharp, artistically superlative, and deeply compassionate, Whitehead’s unforgettable odyssey adds a clarion new facet to the literature of racial tyranny and liberation * Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence, shortlist announcement * Colson Whitehead’s staggering, haunted new novel . . . [is] a book that is fully expected to win all the awards this year – Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, National Book Award, etc – and it deserves every last one * Chapter 16 * In powerful, precise prose, at once spellbinding and ferocious, the book follows Cora’s incredible journey north, step by step . . . the story is literature at its finest and history at its most barbaric. Would that this novel were required reading for every American citizen * Publishers Weekly * Startlingly original . . . Whitehead continues the African-American artists’ inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing authority and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank * Kirkus * Magnetizing and wrenching . . . Each stop Cora makes along the Underground Railroad reveals another shocking and malignant symptom of a country riven by catastrophic conflicts, a poisonous moral crisis, and diabolical violence. Each galvanizing scene blazes with terror and indictment as Whitehead tracks the consequences of the old American imperative to seize, enslave, and profit . . . Hard-driving, lasersharp, artistically superlative, and deeply compassionate, Whitehead’s unforgettable odyssey adds a clarion new facet to the literature of racial tyranny and liberation * Booklist * Whitehead is a fantastic novelist, one of the best in America today. (Certainly better than Franzen.)… Oprah is right: The Underground Railroad is Whitehead’s best book yet… This is the rare critically acclaimed bestseller that deserves every ounce of its adoration, and more. The hype is real. You can believe Oprah, and its scores of other fans, including some guy who took The Underground Railroad on summer vacation and can’t stop talking about its “terrific… powerful” portraiture of race in America. That fan’s name is Barack Obama * Seattle Times * The Underground Railroad has serious ambition, especially within the tradition of literary satire . . . With deadpan virtuosity and muted audacity, Whitehead integrates the historical details of slavery with the present * Los Angeles Review of Books * Masterful, urgent . . . one of the finest novels written about our country’s still unabsolved original sin — Charles Finch * USA Today * This book should be required reading in classrooms across the country alongside Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. If this isn’t Colson Whitehead’s masterpiece, it’s definitely the best book of the year and maybe the most important work of the decade * Chicago Tribune * [The Underground Railroad] is really good – good, in fact, in just about every way a novel can be good . . . a grave and fully realized masterpiece, a weird blend of history and fantasy that will have critics rightfully making comparisons to Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez * Boston Globe * A book that resonates with deep emotional timbre. The Underground Railroad reanimates the slave narrative, disrupts our settled sense of the past and stretches the ligaments of history right into our own era . . . The story charges along with incredible power . . . The canon of essential novels about America’s peculiar institution just grew by one — Ron Charles * Washington Post * The Underground Railroad isn’t the modern slave narrative it first appears to be. It is something grander and more piercing, a dazzling antebellum anti-myth…Whitehead’s prose is quick as a runaway’s footsteps * New York Review of Books * Leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery . . . with echoes of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and with brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift . . . Colson Whitehead has told a story essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present — Michiko Kakutani * New York Times * A charged and important novel that pushed at the boundaries of fiction — Justine Jordan * Guardian, Best Books of 2016 * Stunning and unsentimental . . . required reading — Jenny Niven * Herald * An audaciously imagined and profoundly moving novel — Eithne Farry * Express * The Underground Railroad is a noble descendant of the great narratives of slavery, and among the very finest of its novels — Wesley Stace * Times Literary Supplement * Thrilling and unsentimental * Scotsman * A fantastical picaresque through the dark side of American history * Daily Telegraph * I stayed up way too late to finish this… It will be haunting me in the best way * Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You * An enchanting tale . . . full of vivid images, learned allusions and astute observations . . . The most important and acclaimed American novel of the past year * London Review of Books * Brutal, tender, thrilling and audacious — Naomi Alderman * Guardian * It is a bold way of reimagining the slave experience and, in the capable hands of Whitehead, succeeds triumphantly * Mail on Sunday * Inventive and hard-hitting * Metro * This bravura novel reimagines that same network as a real subterranean railway, upon which a girl named Cora flees the slave-catcher Ridgeway. Throughout, horrific experiences are rendered in lapidary prose, but it’s Cora’s daring that provides the story’s redemptive oomph * Mail on Sunday * Reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in and stays forever . . . a tour de force — Oprah Winfrey Recommended by none other than Obama AND Oprah, The Underground Railroad arrives deserving every last drop of hype that’s come its way . . . There are many twists and turns in Cora’s long, treacherous journey towards freedom and while The Underground Railroad is at times brutal and disturbing, it’s also hopeful and an addictive, compulsive read. After reading it, a corner of your heart will always belong to Cora. An instant classic — Sarra Manning * Red * A stunning, brutal and hugely imaginative book. It’s a favourite of both Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. It is painful history re-imagined in a powerful and brilliant way * Emerald St * Bestselling author Colson Whitehead’s novel is a searing indictment of slavery with a detailed inventory of man’s inhumanity to man – and Cora’s flight is a harrowing and shocking trip for the reader * Daily Mail * An utterly transporting piece of storytelling — Alex Heminsley * The Pool * It is an extraordinary novel, a rich, confident work that will deservedly win – on the basis of literary merit as well as moral purpose . . . History and human experience as well as an artist’s obligation to tell the truth have shaped a virtuoso novel that should be read by every American as well as readers across the world. And it will be, it should be — Eileen Battersby * Irish Times * Whitehead is a superb storyteller . . . [he] brilliantly intertwines his allegory with history . . . writing at the peak of his game . . . Whitehead’s achievement is truly remarkable: by giving the Underground Railroad a new mythology, he has found a way of confronting other myths, older and persistent, about the United States. His book cannot have enough readers * Telegraph * My book of the year by some distance…It’s a profound and important novel, but more than anything it’s an absurdly good read, gripping you in its tightly wound plot, astonishing you with its leaps of imagination. If Whitehead doesn’t win every prize going next year, I’ll appear on Saturday Review in my underpants — Alex Preston * Observer, Best Fiction of 2016 * One of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year . . . Whitehead never exploits his subject matter, and in fact it’s the sparseness of the novel that makes it such a punch in the gut — Sarah Shaffi * Stylist * It’s so good it’s hard to praise it without whipping out the cliches: it’s an elegant, devastating powerhouse of a book, following a young black woman all over America as she tries to escape the horrors of slavery. When it was published with Oprah’s imprimatur, in August, it was universally acclaimed. It deserved it — Michelle Dean * Guardian * This thrilling tale of escape from a deep south plantation takes in terror, beauty and the history of human tragedy..This uncanny novel never attempts to deliver a message – instead it tells one of the most compelling stories I have ever read. Cora’s strong, graceful hands touch on the greatest tragedies of our history * Cynthia Bond, Guardian * [A] brutal, vital, devastating novel…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 * Observer * An engrossing and harrowing novel * Sunday Times * It has invaded both my sleeping and waking thoughts . . . Each character feels alive with a singular humanity . . . Whitehead is on a roll, the reviews have been sublime — Bim Adewunmi * Guardian *
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