The Underground Railroad: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017 Paperback – 23 May 2017
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An engrossing and harrowing novel ― Sunday Times
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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
An utterly transporting piece of storytelling -- Alex Heminsley ― The Pool
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- Publisher : Fleet (23 May 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0708898408
- ISBN-13 : 978-0708898406
- Item Weight : 320 g
- Dimensions : 12.7 x 2.6 x 19.6 cm
- Country of Origin : United Kingdom
- Generic Name : BOOK
- Best Sellers Rank: #14,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Instead, the railroad part is turned into a literal railroad and dismissed quickly and the story focuses on the description of the horrors of slavery.
What I liked is that the book didn't attempt to be omniscient in scope. It restricts itself to narrating the core characters viewpoint which is harrowing enough. There is no hyperbole or drama or rhetoric.
One of the Amazon books that actually looked like a new book. Not dirtied or dented cover or scuffed edges.
I went through the chapters forever and have gone post only 100 pages in 30 days.
Buy this book if you love the craft of writing and want be mesmerized by the story of slaves and their perpetrators.
COLSON whitehead is at the top of his game,three cheers to him for all the accolades he has garnered for this gem of a book.
An eye-opening story.
Top reviews from other countries
Whilst the novel does have literary pretensions, the story ultimately becomes an edge-of-the seat page turning thriller. I can understand why some reviewers found the initial chapters difficult but the book evolves into something that is hugely descriptive and with a sense of danger and menace which permeates the novel like nothing else I have ever read. Whilst the whole concept of an actual underground railway is an elaborate twist on the name given to a network dedicated to rescuing escaped slaves, there is a lot of historical research which has gone in to this book as well as references to later incidents such as the notorious Tuskegee Experiment.
The book is often uncomfortable and there is an underlying and understandable resentment of the racist nature of America and the battles it's black population had to overcome to assert themselves. This is a novel that does not withhold it's punches yet offers up a mirror to American society today. I would have to say that the novel is like a tapestry where the various elements eventually coalesce and you are taken on a journey which is often fascinating, repellent and rewarding depending upon which chapter you are reading. The villains in the piece are repugnant and menacing. Ridgeway is one of the most believable villains I have encountered in a book. Not all the white characters are bad and it is nice to see that things are so nuanced. The detestable Homer is scary because his motives are never really explained. Not sure why a macabre black boy should work for a slave catcher.
I am usually quite negative about American literature. In the past I have been disappointed by writers such as Scot F Fitzgerald who are deemed to represent the "American experience." As a rule, I avoid American writers due to these feelings. Having said this, I would have to say that this book represents exactly how I feel about America. The white characters are especially well drawn in this novel and this appertains to both the liberal characters and racists described within this book. Even those who appear to have good intentions transpire to be misguided.
At the end of the day, what sells this book for me is the fact that you want to talk about it and tell everyone how good it is after you have finished it. It really sticks in your mind, If it has a flaw, it is that there is a sense of foreboding throughout the book which makes you rush through the pages. This means that you sometimes miss the beauty in the language. Deemed a "science fiction " novel, this is somewhat of a miscasting as I feel this is a book that everyone needs to read. This would make a terrific film but I would urge anyone who loves books to pick this novel up and give it a try before it hits the big screen. Thoroughly recommended.
The narrative of Cora's escape across five states becomes a sombre and nuanced exploration of the toxic effect of slavery, especially plantation slavery, on the whole of American society, with figures like Martin and Homer serving to illustrate the diversity of human responses to the enveloping nightmare.
I had a mixed reaction to the magic realism of the railroad and to a lesser extent the South Carolina sequence. It was daring on Whitehead's part, because he ran the risk of destroying his book's credibility. I can understand why some readers abandoned the novel at that point. But on balance I thought it worked, adding an invigorating extra dimension.
The only flaw was the rather muted ending, which lacked the self confidence and panache of the rest of the novel.
The writing is lyrical and poetic and crafted with care and a real sense of artistry. The story is utterly compelling and takes a real grip early on and never lets it's tightness ease. The characters are crafted with care and loving attention and their stories draw massive emotional responses. It's hard to fathom the evil and totality of the Slavery Experience, it's savagery and ruthlessness and the way it pock marked itself so deeply into the culture of The South-and beyond. It's impact reasonates today causing a torrent of complex problems & challenges for modern day America.
This is a bleak read but it also inspires as the central characters try to retain their dignity and Hope in a period of unrelenting primeval savagery.
The pace of the book is fierce and you root for the Slaves. There are one or two moments of exhilaration amidst the despair and murderous culture.
Parts of the book ride a rocky road in trying to stretch the debate between the protagonists and for me the weakest section is in the interchange between the Slave Catcher ,Ridgeway, and Cara. That part just doesn't work.
But it's a rare moment in an otherwise superlative read. This is a simply magnificent book which is beautifully written, imaginatively constructed and powerfully realised.
Highly recommended and one of my Books of the Decade.
Slavery was and is totally awful and it is a story of cruelty for economic gain and the result of seeing people as less than human - this being the basis of appalling racism. There were a few episodes that capture the horror and brutality of it and I fearful of being seen as someone who trivialises it but in a strange way the book does that.
Cora just like Dick Barton was save at the last moment when somehow a saviour or saviours turned up. This made it certain that she would ride off into the sunset. Those who died brutal deaths and who remain as a scar on the people who used slavery so casually got lost in this book.
And, it really was a heartfelt story which deals with a very important subject. As you may know, the Underground Railroad was set up by abolitionists to bring slaves to the free states via a secret network of safe houses and transportation. Whitehead plays around with the traditional notion of the railroad, creating a quite literal “Underground Railroad” with secret stations and train drivers which was a really clever addition.
The novel is set during the 1800’s and begins on a slave plantation in Georgia. It follows Cora and Caesar who seek to escape using Whitehead’s version of the Railroad to gain their freedom.
Needless to say, their bid for freedom is epic and is something that you can’t help but live with Cora, it really sucked me in! On her journey, she is hunted by slave catchers seeking the bounty set out by her “owner.” There is one notorious Catcher called Ridgeway who makes it his mission not to let Cora have her freedom.
Does he succeed? You’ll have to read it to find out I’m afraid…
That said, this novel really highlighted the people across America willing to risk their own lives to help the slaves obtain freedom.
It really is a real page-turner from start to finish and covers themes of self-discovery, family, identity, and the huge divide between two halves of America. A story with lots of ups and downs and twists and turns as Cora attempts to see the “Real America” via the Underground Railroad.
My only suggestion is to lose the one-word quote from Barack Obama on the cover, it really doesn’t need it.