Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora makes her way through grueling obstacles and a literal underground railroad to reach freedom from slavery.
The Underground Railroad made many best-of lists for 2016, and with good reason.
The book follows Cora, a slave, as she deals with slave life, escape, and setbacks.
And boy, is the slave life bad. And boy, are the setbacks devastating. Punishments are public and brutal. Executions and humiliating tortures are warnings against disobedience.
But Cora perseveres.
Escaping slavery isn’t for the weak-hearted. Good thing Cora’s not weak.
I found it hard to follow the story at some points unless I was paying very close attention. Key characters would exit, then reappear in flashbacks that werenâ€™t fleshed out very well, making me wonder if I had somehow jumped to the wrong place in the story.
And while Coraâ€™s strength is admirable, itâ€™s difficult to connect with her character. Just as she keeps everyone in the book at a safe distance from her, she seems to do that to the reader, too.
That may be on purpose.
Coraâ€™s fortitude and strength necessitates a certain amount of detachment. She detaches from the people enslaving her, but also from the people who could be her allies. Sometimes allies become traitors. She has to keep most of herself to herself if she is to preserve herself (how many times can I fit â€œherselfâ€ into a sentence?).
Cora doesnâ€™t much care about being sympathetic or likeable or relatable, to her peers or to her readers. She cares about making it through.
I want more of Caesar. Heâ€™s central to moving the story and moving Cora, and then heâ€™s gone. I need more of his inner workings and more of the fallout created by his absence.
There are a few shortcomings that keep it from reaching five-star status, but make no mistake: The Underground Railroad is a very good book.
It doesnâ€™t shy away from the harsh realities of life on the plantation and the cruelty acted out on slaves.
Small kindnesses contain universes here. The small glimpses of beauty mean the difference between hope and despair.
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is currently developing The Underground Railroad into a series for Amazon. You can bet Iâ€™ll be there to climb aboard.