The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a novel that deals us a heavy story, but with Whitehead’s skilled writing and magical realism elements, it never becomes too heavy that you want to stop reading.
The story focuses on Cora, a slave in Georgia who escapes along with another slave from the perils and maltreatment at the Randall Plantation. Fast on their heels is Ridgeway, a slave catcher, who carries resentment that he never caught Cora’s mother, Mabel, who escaped years earlier.
Cora and Cesar link up with the Underground Railroad, which in this case is an actual railroad with trains, and begin their journey toward freedom. There are many close calls and recaptures and you wonder if Cora will ever find the freedom she fights so hard for.
Whitehead does an excellent job of keeping the focus on the plight of all African-Americans whether “free” or still enslaved and the tortures and fear that fills their lives. That fear is palpable for Cora as well as those who try to help her and other slaves escape.
Much of what Whitehead writes feels so poignant in today’s political climate and I was particularly struck by this passage: “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make War. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.”
Yes, yet here we are.