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The Underground Railroad

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4.04  ·  Rating details ·  92,775 Ratings  ·  11,110 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published August 2nd 2016 by Doubleday Books
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Popular Answered Questions

Jim Yes. Violence was an integral part of slavery.
Cara This is a work of fiction, not historical fiction. North and South Carolina didn't have the political structure described in the book. Whitehead is…moreThis is a work of fiction, not historical fiction. North and South Carolina didn't have the political structure described in the book. Whitehead is using the story of Cora's escape to get at the multitude of ways that blacks, in particular, have been dehumanized and mistreated by whites throughout the history of this country. A literal railroad is a literal representation of the darkness of the American journey for blacks and other people of color who were dispossessed and abused. One of the white characters (Lumbley?) speaks of how you can really only see American by train, but, as a white person, he has the freedom to travel without fear, with the opportunity to look out at the passing scenery and see America in all its glory and potential. As an enslaved woman who, even after escaping from her owner is never really free, Cora can't see all of that. It is only at the end, as she finally has a chance to truly be free (or as free as a black woman could be) that she can travel above ground.

Another reviewer also pointed out that the mystery of who built the literal railroad, without the knowledge and under the feet of the white majority keeping slaves in bondage, is a powerful metaphor of how much slaves did for America, and how much of it is hidden.

When I started the novel, I didn't understand why the railroad was literal, but I get it now (or, it's more accurate to say, I get at least a portion of what Whitehead intended).(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Emily May
This is my first read by Colson Whitehead and it makes me think his style may not be to my tastes.

It's personal preference, I'm sure. There are some beautiful sentences, some genius structural choices, and many great ideas. Indeed, the re-imagining of history where the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad is a great idea in itself. I just found it lacking in anything resembling emotion. It's a cold, distant, impersonal novel and it didn't pull me in.

All of the secondary characters are unde
...more
Roxane
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent writing, strong concept. I am personally burnt out on slavery narratives so I cannot say this was a pleasure to read. So much unrelenting horror. Whitehead does an excellent job of portraying slavery and America as a slave nation. The idea of the underground railroad, as an actual railroad, is so smart and interesting. I wish he had actually done more with the railroad itself. There were some sentences where I thought, "Now you are just showing off." The amount of research the author d ...more
Navidad Thelamour


“All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.”

I was really looking forward to this read! I had an interesting relationship with The Intuitionist, having read it in college and not quite grasped it then came back to it later and enjoyed it more. I love everything that Colson Whitehead is about (and I hope to read Zone One soon), but this particular foray into his work turned out to be a little less than a love affair for me.

The Underground Railroad starts on the Randall planta
...more
Trish
Jul 12, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For nearly twenty years the work of Colson Whitehead has been published to wide acclaim, his fiction and nonfiction both receiving many accolades. For this reason I was eager to have the chance to read his new novel that focused on the origination of the race debate in America—slavery. This new novel is due out September 13, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for the opportunity to read an e-galley.

The story centers around Cora, a motherless slave living on the Randall estate in Georgia. Wh
...more
Elyse
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I came to this book with some resistance, regardless of it being the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2017.
I've owned the physical book since last year. It kept being easier to read something else.

I felt it was my duty to read this book.
But wait.....
Haven't I done my duty?
I've read three James Baldwin books 'this' year....I've seen the movie "12 Years a Slave", and "Birth of a Nation".
I've read "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, "The Kitchen House", by Kathleen Grissom, "Between The World And Me", by Ta-Neh
...more
Will Byrnes
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a world, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close, but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing th
...more
Angela M
Mar 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars rounded up.

This is a difficult book to read with the horrific treatment and gruesome punishments of African American slaves so much a part of the narrative, but it is essential that we read this and other books like it . We need these powerful, compelling and gut wrenching reminders of what life was like on a plantation in Georgia and other places in the South and what it might have been like to be a runaway. This story is told mainly from the perspective of a young slave woman named C
...more
Michael Finocchiaro
The Underground Railroad is an intense ride. I had not taken "railroad" to be a literal thing before reading the book. Like Cora, the protagonist, I thought it was just an informal way of smuggling escaped slaves up north. Now, I am curious to visit some of the stations should they still exist.
The book itself is one of courage, brutality, and hope. It is a condemnation of the despicable crime against humanity that was slavery (and I have ancestors that were guilty of that unforgivable iniquity)
...more
Pouting Always
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Cora is a slave on a plantation in Georgia where conditions are especially rough because of the cotton industry. When she was younger her mother left her alone on the plantation and escaped, leaving Cora to fend for herself. Cora eventually becomes an outcast but when a new slave arrives on the plantation, Caesar, he approaches her and asks her to run away from him. The two set out to evade the bounty hunters and restart their lives this time as free people. I really enjoyed a lot of things abou ...more
Matthew
Every year, I have either never heard of the films nominated for the Best Picture Academy award or when I see them, I don’t think the movie is all that great; long drawn out scenes with landscapes, close ups of glowering faces, monotonous dialogue, etc. I know that every movie doesn’t have to be action packed, but forced artsy-ness or movies nominated for content but not quality are frustrating.

The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize this year. I have read other Pulitzer Prize winners an
...more
Justin
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'm a guy who enjoys "best of" lists. One of my favorite things about December, besides my birthday, Christmas, football, colder weather, and hot chocolate, is sitting down to peruse lists of the best stuff of the year. Books, movies, albums, video games, etc. I love it. I have trusted sources that I rely on to provide my with the best of the best, and when I start to see the same stuff appear on very list, I drop everything and consume it.

Like right now I'm watching The Americans because Seaso
...more
Lori
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I struggled through this... several times thinking of giving up. As a story revolving around such a 'heavy' subject the focus needed to be on a character less one dimensional and just a little bit likable. Cora was not a character that made me feel anything... there was no depth to her. Also, I disliked the whole idea of the Underground Railroad being an actual physical railroad which made no sense to me. Almost made it somewhat cartoonish. It would've been somewhat redeemable if there had been ...more
Ron Charles
Nobody could wait for Colson Whitehead’s new book — including Oprah, so here it is, a month early. In a surprise announcement Tuesday morning, Winfrey chose “The Underground Railroad” as the next title for Oprah’s Book Club. Originally set to release on Sept. 13, the novel is available now, the result of an extraordinary plan to start shipping 200,000 copies out to booksellers in secret.

Far and away the most anticipated literary novel of the year, “The Underground Railroad” marks a new triumph f
...more
Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.



Cora is a slave at a Georgia plantation in the antebellum South. When a fellow slave tells her about the Underground Railroad, she finds the courage to run for her freedom. Thus begins her odyssey as a runaway slave, where her adventures introduce her to unprecedented horrors and lead her to disheartening realizations.

The Underground Railroad rekindles the discussion and study of slavery. The harsh realit
...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cora, was a young slave on a Georgia plantation when her mother escaped, leaving Cora to the mercy of the other women in the quarters. Despite hiring a notorious slave tracker, she was never found.To say this plantation did not treat its slaves well is an understatement, some of the punishments devised caused me to, skim over them they are that horrific. When a new intelligent black man, a young man whose master had falsely promised to free him on her death, arrives as a new slave on the plantat ...more
Paromjit
The foundations of the United States are built on slavery and this dark history informs its evolution right up to present day where the current political environment has legitimised racism. This book is set in the early 19th century and Whitehead has made the actual allegorical historical railroad into a physical one that Cora travels on, giving her and us insights into the nature of slavery and racism, seeing the differences in how it is implemented in the states it passes through and just how ...more
Book Riot Community
I went into this book with expectations sky high (Oprah AND Obama picked it as a must-read) and I’m happy to report that Underground Railroad more than lived up to the hype. It’s a searing account of American racism and African American agency set against the backdrop of pre-Civil War America. I tend to be very picky about my historical fiction and, under normal circumstances, I’d be grumpy about a book that takes events from several different eras and has them happen simultaneously or suggested ...more
poingu
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I finished feeling utterly exhilarated. This novel is a triumphant act of imagination.

I could write that there are many things I didn't like about it, too. I could list them, even. There were too many characters too superficially drawn; sometimes I felt there was too much narrative summary; the bad guys trended toward evil caricatures rather than multidimensional people; there was an odd distancing effect between the reader and any one character because there is so little offered of each charac
...more
Brina
DNF-- the characters did not resonate with me. If I were to compare Underground Railroad to Homegoing, I thought the latter to be the better book this year. Underground Railroad was tough to get into and perhaps if more action had occurred in the first part of the book, I would have liked it more.
Luffy
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The plight of slaves who are so badly treated that they are willing to risk horrendous punishment in an attempt to flee from their hellish circumstances, used to be all too common. In this historical fiction, our resident rebel is Cora, a young woman who is ready to try and escape.

This book and its subject matter put things into perspective. Life used to be hellish or thereabouts to anyone not a man, and not white. Given that teenagers nowadays have it easy, very easy compared to their ancestors
...more
Jim Fonseca
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-authors
A good read and Pulitzer Prize winner, with so many reviews already, I’ll make this brief.

The main character is a young woman slave who hates her missing mother for having escaped when she was a child. A young man plans to escape from the Georgia plantation and invites her to go with him, partly because he thinks she’s “good luck” because of her mother’s escape. The main story becomes one of a cat and mouse game with a brutal slave hunter on their tail. There is a “real” underground railroad run
...more
Julie Christine
"I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," stated First Lady Michelle Obama at this year's Democratic National Convention. Her words seemed to come as a surprise to many, those who had either forgotten or had never known that black hands enslaved by white masters built the iconic edifice of our democracy.

As we come to the end of an extraordinary eight years of the nation's first President of color while witnessing the continued systemic racism that pervades every corner of ou
...more
Matthew Quann
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: pulitzers, audiobooks
I rarely get to read books when they are in their acute hype phase, but I decided to put an Audible credit towards critical darling Colson Whitehead's latest novel. A couple drives back and forth across the province and I'm all done with The Underground Railroad and ready to render my verdict.

ALL ABOARD!

The premise is pretty enticing: a reimagining of the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad underground. It's exactly the sort of spin on the slavery narrative that critics will gobble up whi
...more
Snotchocheez
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

*******UPDATE 4/10/17: Congrats to 2017 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Winner (and 2017 Tournament of Books Winner) Colson Whitehead!!!! Truly well-deserved honors!

-----------------------------

You gotta admire Colson Whitehead's creative tightrope act here. He puts a hyperreal spin on the scourge of slavery (and all the concomitant indignities stemming therefrom) wrought upon blacks by whites. That he achieves this hyperreality without compromising historicity is remarkable.

The Underground Railr
...more
Melanie
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Underground Railroad was the group book for #DiverseAthon, which was held from the 22nd to the 29th of January 2017!

This important and very needed readathon is being hosted by Christina Marie from Christina Marie, Joce from squibblesreads, Simon from SavidgeReads, Monica from shemightbemonica, Mara from BookMarauder, and Naz from Read Diverse Books!

“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
...more
Sam
Mar 01, 2017 rated it liked it
The Underground Railroad is important, unflinching, provocative, fairly inventive, and incredibly relevant and timely as Colson Whitehead shows how plenty of slavery's shackles still grip insidiously the collective consciousness and actions of the American nation. The terrifying dehumanization and brutality of being sold into and living in bondage for blacks is presented and contrasted against the pursuit of freedom, often equally terrifying, dehumanizing, and brutal, and on protagonist Cora's j ...more
Seemita
[Originally appeared here (with edits): http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]

Shaping a work around the theme of slavery and its many tentacles is a bit like shaping a lump of rigid clay into something cohesive and stable. On one hand, excessive pressure on misery squashes the vein of the narrative and on another, a voice too rebellious, hollows out the inherent pain of its victims. Drawing that line which does justice to this divide is certainly not an easy task and that is precisely where W
...more
Taryn
3.5 Stars. Cora is a slave on the Randall plantation, the place where she was born and where her grandmother and mother were also slaves. Caesar, a new arrival on the property, offers her an opportunity to accompany him on the Underground Railroad, but she is hesitant. When leadership on the plantation changes hands and Cora's circumstances get even worse, she decides to take a chance and flee with Caesar. Not one to let his property get away, Terrance Randall sends a determined slave catcher a ...more
Diane
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is both brutal and beautiful. It is the story of slaves in Georgia trying to escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad, and along the way we see innumerable scenes of how horrible life could be for a black person in the American South.

What gives this book a twist from other historical fiction of the same period is that Colson Whitehead made his Underground Railroad a real railroad, with trains and tracks and tunnels and stations. I liked this scene when the runaway slaves, Cora
...more
Phrynne
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4000-books
When I started this book I was not sure I would be able to actually finish it. The authors style took a bit of getting used to and the atrocities visited upon the slaves were very hard to read about. As the book progressed however I became more and more invested in Cora's life and I just had to see it through to the finish.
A lot of the book was so hard to read. The awful things that were done on the basis of colour alone were so hard to read about. There were some happy parts though and Cora was
...more
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10029
I'm the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. I've also written a book of essays about my home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction ac ...more
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“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.” 56 likes
“Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.” 42 likes
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