Fugitive slaves Cora and Caesar are on the run from their sadistic slave master Randall and Ridgeway, a bounty hunter with a long memory. They move slowly north on the Underground Railroad which, in Whitehead’s imagination, is no symbolic trail but actual rails, trains, and conductors. Hiding for months at a time in unimaginable privation, concealed as free blacks for short periods of relative calm, capture for the pair is never more than a shadow away. Cora is the center of this spellbinding novel, and her fierce determination to be a free person in charge of her own destiny will move readers in profound ways.
- Cindy— From Cindy's Recs
September 2016 Indie Next List
“Whitehead's new novel is much more than the story of a runaway slave, Cora, who fights her way to the North; it is also a phantasmagorical look at race in America. In this instance the railroad is literal -- a train roaring through tunnels constructed like a subway, leading Cora to several unlikely destinations. Like the travels of Gulliver, each of Cora's stops on the railroad is a different version of America, displaying the varied ways in which Americans view race and manifest destiny. With exquisite prose, Colson digs deep into the troubled heart of America, exposing prejudice, tolerance, hatred, violence, and love as readers stop at each distinct station. Cora is a hero for the ages, and Whitehead is a writer who can guide us, like a station master, into the light. This is a fantastic novel.”
— William Carl (E), Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, the #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell 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--Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. 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. And 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.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver's Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey--hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. 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.
About the Author
Colson Whitehead is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the 2016 National Book Award, and named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, as well as The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York. He is also a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. He lives in New York City.