The Underground Railroad: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Paperback- $8.95

#1 New York Times Bestseller • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize • Winner of the National Book Award • Winner of the Andrew Carnegie ...

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  "Important, but stressful, read about the awful life of a slave." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 08/13/16

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, author; Bahni Turpin, narrator
There is probably no one alive who has not heard of the legendary underground railway that was used to help slaves escape from their masters. In this novel, Whitehead has cleverly and realistically created a real hidden underground railroad that runs beneath the ground to help bring slaves to freedom, much like the New York subway system. Various arms are shut down as they are discovered and new ones are built when it is possible and safe to do so. The various lines differ in comfort and style depending on location, but all are fraught with danger.
The book is gripping in its style and in its telling. It was hard to read continuously because the hopelessness, the cruelty and the concomitant fear of the slave is palpable. The arrogance of those in power and the excuses they used to justify their behavior defied reality and yet was made real by the practice of it. I took few notes as I read because putting pen to paper about it made it seem too real, even though, as the author admitted, it was a mixture of fact and fiction; it was very hard to read about Cora’s attempts to find freedom in a world that wanted to continue to keep her in bondage.
When the book begins we learn about Ajarry, a young African woman who has been stolen and shipped to America to work on a Plantation owned by the Randall family. She is the matriarch, the mother of Mabel, her only surviving child, of the five she had birthed. She is grandmother to Cora, Mabel’s only child. Mabel was known for her independence and soon it was obvious that Cora would be known for that as well. Cora has no idea where her mother is since she disappeared from the Randall’s plantation and was never heard from again. She was never caught, although the brutal slave catcher named Arnold Ridgeway has never given up the search. Cora, at 11, becomes an orphan, a young slave at the mercy of the other slaves, who in their dire circumstances, like their masters, are also often cruel and brutal in their treatment of other slaves. The stronger preyed on those weaker. Cora resents her mother for abandoning her to such circumstances.
The book moves back and forth in time exposing Cora’s life with its trials and tribulations and the lives of the characters that she engages with, but most of the details are revealed only to the reader. Cora never discovers the true nature of all of her background or many of the facts about those loved ones that she lost, however, she does learn bits and pieces as her life unravels in the story. Her experiences are the stuff of nightmares and it would be nice if it could be dismissed that way, but it is documented that such barbaric treatment of slaves was commonplace by other freed slaves, free blacks or self-righteous whites. Runaway slaves were turned over like objects, without compunction or concern for what would happen to them, largely for selfish reasons. The masses entertained themselves with the punishment of those who aided and abetted the runaways even as they watched the slaves being captured. It reminded me of the Roman arenas where people cheered as Christians were fed to the lions. Such behavior should never have been tolerated or encouraged, and yet, our history tells us that if what the author wrote did not exactly happen, certainly great similarities do exist between his fantasy and our reality.
Just as I have read many books on the Holocaust and am often surprised by information I learn that I did not know before, this book reveals information that I had never come across before, although I have read many books on slavery, as well. Although it is historic fiction, there is enough information resembling actual history to make the book, not only plausible, but incredibly believable. The hopelessness of the situation for the slaves and the details which are provided by the author, real or imaginary, strike at the heart of man; it is simply not possible to justify the use of people as objects or material possessions; it is not possible to fully wrap one’s mind around the idea that there were plans to extinguish a race or a religion without the resounding objection of multiple voices to quell such behavior. History has proven that when driven by economic need, people seem to do horrific things and perhaps that is where the answer lies. Perhaps we all need to guard against using our financial situation as an excuse for abominable behavior. Financial need does not and should not preclude the needs of humanity or humanitarian behavior.
Although the author admits that he has exaggerated the punishments and torture written about in the book, he also admits that slave masters were very cruel and brutal, treating their slaves as simple possessions, referring to them with the pronoun “it” rather then with he or she; he alludes to the medical treatments that have been forced upon their race, and the medical experiments that have been conducted without their knowledge.
Slavery was indeed a blight upon our history as was what is known as the Trail of Tears and the associated Indian massacres. How to justify and rectify the injustice has been an enigma for decades. There is no easy answer because nothing can change what has already been written in history. We must never forget that we are, indeed, all human and all subject to the same cruelties we inflict on others, if we do not put a stop to it before it begins.

  "The Underground Railroad" by BetsyO58 (see profile) 09/23/16

Many in our book club struggled with the horror described in this book-in fact, several didn't finish it. I think this is an excellent book for insight to the slave's perception.It's not a pretty picture or a peaceful life. In many books, this is softened. Though I found this to be a hard read, I'm glad that I read it. Think people need to be prepared going into it, though.

  "Underground Railroad" by Marykochg (see profile) 11/02/16

I was disappointed since it was one of Oprah's recommendations. It started out slowly, poorly written. As I was half way through it, it became more informative.....characters more developed. I certainly would not recommend it for my book club but it did have one thing going for it (it was a short book!)

  "" by oatleysharon (see profile) 11/04/16

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  "Great Read" by Ingrid14 (see profile) 12/28/16

I couldn't put it down.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/05/17

  "Underground Railroad" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/08/17

I thought the book was very slow in the beginning. ot was hard to get into it. However after about chaper 4 it got more interesting, and at time hard to put down. I found the book very graphic at times, but very informative about slavery during that time period.

  "" by jodik11 (see profile) 01/19/17

  "" by amintcar (see profile) 01/26/17

  "Choppy Writing" by Jysnc (see profile) 01/26/17

Good story, riveting. But the writing was so disjointed in places that I was scrolling back on my eReader to make sure I hadn't skipped whole pages. Bereft ending after remarkable momentum.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/29/17

  "" by peckhauser (see profile) 02/06/17

  "Sparked great club discussion" by skinnyatlas (see profile) 02/09/17

Cleverly written and epic journey of black history and slavery. Sparked a rapid fire discussion on multiple topics. The material was equally or less graphic than Kitchen House, Invention of Wings and similar genre

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/10/17

I was not a fan

  "" by glynngamble (see profile) 02/11/17

  "depressing and difficult read" by cbrowne369 (see profile) 02/18/17

Difficult read because of the depressing topic. But the book did make for very good discussions.

  "" by cape08fl (see profile) 02/24/17

  "The Underground Railroad" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/28/17

A truly wonderful book that generated a exciting meeting of our book club. The story is told masterfully with an intriguing method full of surprises making a very difficult topic come to life and creating a very memorable read.

  "" by pwfritz (see profile) 02/28/17

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  "" by nuthatch903 (see profile) 03/22/17

  "Underground Railroad" by jakjohnson52 (see profile) 03/24/17

I really felt the author's writing was very disconnected. Some things ... like Mabel's demise, I also don't understand why he made the Underground Railroad literal. If someone reading this book doesn't know their history it could be confusing.

  "Disappointed" by arizonamom (see profile) 03/28/17

Most of our members were disappointed that it was not as interesting as it's popularity seems to suggest. It was not an historical novel, which is why we didn't give it a better rating

  "interesting" by pattiokun (see profile) 04/05/17

This novel was another reminder of the horrors of slavery, but with a twist where the underground railroad is actually a railroad! It was a great discussion for our book club.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/24/17

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/10/17

  "The Underground Railroad" by nanovsky (see profile) 06/22/17

An excellent book for discussion, containing information and events that covered several periods in history.

  "" by Ljwagoner (see profile) 06/25/17

This story takes you on a journey with Cora, an escaped slave from Georgia. Whitehead, the author, effectively brings into the light the atrocities slaves experienced, endured and for many succumbed to. Powerful in word and meaning. The writing style was difficult for me in places ,but the storyline and message prevailed.
P. 255 " But we have all been branded even if you can't see it."

  "" by ladydiphil (see profile) 07/06/17

  "" by kdhollrah (see profile) 07/11/17

  "the underground railroad" by Carolynr (see profile) 08/02/17

I struggled with this book. While I find the concept interesting and good historical information I could not relate to the characters. Also found it confusing to have the book being told in present day, then going back to the past with characters. Not my style.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/16/17

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/02/17

Tough but informative read, full of dramatic turns. The story of Cora is one that shines a light on the struggles and tribulations of a Georgia slave. The story did jump around at times and there were characters that were easily missed because of so many facts. I would suggest reading this book with a blank piece of paper to jot down the names of each character, it will help. Overall tough start but great finish.

  "" by Katrina.B (see profile) 09/12/17

  "" by Christie Lambert (see profile) 09/17/17

  "" by Abby0814 (see profile) 09/18/17

  "" by amandagayle (see profile) 10/09/17

  "The Underground Railroad" by bcarroll (see profile) 10/10/17

This mistreatment of the slaves was nothing knew for any of us, was hard to read about again, and we were very disappointed that the railroad was depicted as a real railroad. We did have a good discussion, though, which ranged from the book's times to the current NFL anthem disrespect.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/11/17

  "" by lelusac (see profile) 10/13/17

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/17/17

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/12/17

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/14/17

  "Interesting characters " by MaryW83 (see profile) 11/14/17

This book had very interesting characters and I wanted to know what happened next. I understood the author’s desire to use the railroad in a metaphorical context; however, I found the use of a literal railroad in the story to detract from the story rather than enhance it. Several other occurrences seemed a little unbelievable, too, in my opinion. The book did refresh and reiterate what I’ve learned about slavery in America.

  "" by austen (see profile) 11/16/17

Many of the club members were troubled by the book for different reasons but we all had a great, long discussion and people began to see the insightfulness of the book and what the author was trying to achieve.

  "This book is fiction" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/30/17

I finished Whiteheads "Underground Railroad". I want to remind everyone that the book is fiction. He depicts the railroad as a true train station that is underground.....which is not true. The book is very graphic, the author is known for writing violent his book "Zone One" is a gore splattering zombie book. I like historical fiction and this book does not have the back ground and research that I prefer. But it is a very quick read, so please read it, so we can get everyone's opinion.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 12/14/17

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  "" by DILaurie (see profile) 12/30/17

  "" by kimkatzmom (see profile) 01/07/18

  "Well written, difficult material" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/17/18

This was a very good book and provided lots of good discussion. It was difficult to read for many members, because the subject matter was dark.
It's well written and some sections were highlighted to discuss during the meeting.

  "" by Grosland (see profile) 02/22/18

  "group gave overall thumbs down" by curlytop (see profile) 03/23/18

Book was hard to follow
Overuse/misuse use of pronouns made reading difficult
Introduced characters that really did not serve the plot
Flipped back and forth between reality and fantasy which resulted in confusion and frustration
Totally unsatisfying ending

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/18/18

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  "" by nmsanders34488 (see profile) 05/04/18

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  "" by sisterhoodjoni (see profile) 08/31/18

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/07/18

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/14/18

Give it to High School juniors and seniors to read and study with guidance and further study from teachers.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/04/18

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/11/18

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/21/18

  "The Underground Railroad" by PeggySue64 (see profile) 11/05/18

The idea of an actual underground railroad was implausible. Writer did well painting mental picture, although style was disjointed and didn't flow. Characters didn't come alive. Disappointing.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/12/18

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/13/18

love historical novels

  "" by gypsykim (see profile) 11/17/18

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  "" by JPMay (see profile) 01/01/20

A gripping read though different to expectations!

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/09/20

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/11/22

This book was amazing. Difficult to read some of the awful things perpetrated on the slaves but insightful none the less.
I will be reading more of this author’s books in the future.

  "" by pmacarthur (see profile) 12/23/22

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/08/23

  "" by Booksnthings (see profile) 02/19/23

  "Writing did not work for me. " by [email protected] (see profile) 07/09/23

There were elements of the writing I really enjoyed. But still, I was so bored with this book. I fell asleep multiple times while reading it (atypical for me). Slavery is disgusting and repulsive. Over the years while reading books about this heavy subject (primarily historical fiction), I experienced strong emotions about the plight of the characters in the books. I did not have that reaction with this telling. I really enjoyed the idea of how the Underground Railroad functioned, but I did not feel anything toward the characters. Yes, there were many things that happened to Cora, but I never felt like I got to know Cora. The book didn't flow well for me. And that could just be my preference. Caesar I think is suppose to be one of the main characters, but then he disappears-with a follow up chapter devoted to him at a later time BEFORE they ran. There was a random chapter on Dr. Stevens and anatomy-it added nothing to the story. I did not move me like I hoped it would.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/25/23

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