Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad won this year's National Book Award and for very good reason.
"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.
In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates 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 a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share."
It was a read I'd been looking forward to for quite some time and I was extremely excited to reach the top of the queue at the library. This book was incredibly well written and heavy in a way that takes your breath away. He does an incredible job of intertwining history with a story that sucks you in. It's grotesquely accurate in it's portrayal of our history as a country and it scares me to see how much we've regressed. Whitehead had the idea for this book 16 years ago but waited until he felt like he could do it justice. It's more relevant now than ever before.
“The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others.”
Books, especially this one, are helping me to find the right questions to ask and to dig a little deeper into my discomfort. To realize the responsibility I have in this day and age, and to feel the weight of it all. To be challenged and pushed forward.
I'll finish with these words by @athousandbooks:
"It's interesting to see what's happening in literature in 2016 juxtaposed with the current political climate. Books addressing the scourge of slavery like Homegoing and The Underground Railroad are bestsellers, plays like Hamilton are sold out, and yet deep down I think many of us have a sense that despite changes to laws, the collective mindset concerning race remains stagnant. Why is that? I don't think it's wrong to read these books on the beach or set them next to steaming cups of coffee and lunch or melt ice cream on their covers, but as we illuminate, let's also remember the dark tragedy of it all. When literature emits pain like heat, may we as readers feel its prick and do our best to remember the oven is still on."