The Underground Railroad has been on my radar for quite some time now. I’ve seen it in plenty of lists as one of the best books of 2016, so, naturally, I was ecstatic when I received an ARC for this one.
Cora is a slave in a cotton plantation in Georgia. After her mother’s escape, Cora is an outcast even among her people, considered a witch by many. When Caesar tells her about the underground railroad, Cora is convinced to escape with him. The pair flee to South Carolina, a place that first seems like heaven on earth. They soon find out that things are not exactly as they thought, especially since Ridgeway, a notorious slave catcher, is close on their heels. Life takes a few unexpected turns and Cora is once again forced to flee, going from state to state in a quest for her freedom.
I can’t even begin to explain how important this book is. Touching on a variety of extremely important themes, like white saviours and the importance of literature, as well as presenting a very authentic depiction of slavery, it has rightfully been described as one of the most important books of 2016.
Whitehead’s writing is probably a hit or miss. His narrative is a bit distant and impersonal, definitely not loaded with emotions as one may have expected. I think, however, that it’s exactly this style of narrative that made his book so captivating. It is obvious that he did a thorough research before writing this book; he is obviously a well-informed, educated and intelligent as hell individual. And these exact traits shine throughout his book. I think his cold narrative works really well for an era where black people were considered objects and property of their masters, not actual human beings, it works really well with the essence of his story.
I have to admit that, even though I didn’t care for most of the other characters, Cora definitely was a surprise for me. I admired her strength, her courage; this is a girl who knows how to survive. She was obviously the star of the story and even if I’ll probably soon forget the other characters, she is engraved in my memory forever.
I previously said that this book touches upon the importance of literature. I was actually referring to the importance of a literature that represents and mirrors its readers. Cora finds herself surrounded by books at some point in the story, and she devours every single one of them. Those that mostly grab her attention, however, are those about the history and struggles of her people. They are the ones that make her see herself in them, the ones that she finds relatable. For me, that small passage showcases the power representation in any form of literature can have on an individual and how important it is to be able to see yourself in books.
**An ARC was provided via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review.**