Clif Hostetler's Reviews > The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
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This is a steampunk fantasy version of a 19th century historical novel. It only makes sense as metaphor—not a true story but rather a story that contains truth. The emotion is real, but it's wrapped in a frame of make-believe. After all, the term "Underground Railroad" is metaphor to begin with. This book takes that metaphor, turns it on its head, and ends up with creative imaginary history on steroids.

I knew from other reviews of this book that I wasn't going to like it because of its fantasy structure. Thus I delayed reading it until prompted to do so by a book discussion group. As it turns out the book did capture my attention. Once I let go of it being only a historical novel I was able to be carried along in a world that is partly realistic. The book contains some gruesome scenes that are realistic representations of slavery and race relations, but between these scenes are rides on a fanciful secret subway.

As I see it, the various stops along this fictional underground railroad metaphorically portray the range of African American experiences as they have transitioned from slavery to whatever exists today. For some perceptive readers the stations on the railroad will seem a bit allegorical for continuing and current social/political issues.

At the first stop in South Carolina the races seem to coexist peacefully, but they are very separate and certainly not equal. At the next stop in North Carolina blacks have been disappeared (i.e. eradicated) and replaced with Irish immigrants (a.k.a. white niggers). Following a slow passage through a burned out land and a violent encounter with slave catchers, we end up at another stop in Indiana where there's a prosperous community of free African Americans. But the white Indiana neighbors destroy the community in the same way they had gotten rid of the American Indians.

The book's narrative occasionally switches between scenes that are not in chronological order. Through some of these flashbacks the reader is informed of some background to earlier parts of the story. One of the items the reader is informed about is the fate of Cora's mother who had escaped slavery and was never caught by slave catchers.

I thought it was symbolic of something when the book ends with Cora, our protagonist, getting on a wagon with an escaping Irish worker who's head west to begin a new life.
__________
I've decided to included the following quotation from the book which refers to the railroad with dreamlike language that possibly suggests that it may be imaginary.
Into the tunnel that no one had made, that led nowhere.

She discovered a rhythm, pumping her arms, throwing all of herself into movement. Into northness, was she traveling through the tunnel or digging it? (p 309)
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Reading Progress

January 2, 2020 – Started Reading
January 3, 2020 – Shelved
January 4, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Why are there only YOUR reviews on my good reads log. I would be interested in the opinions of more than one person.


message 2: by Clif (last edited Jan 05, 2020 02:11PM) (new) - added it

Clif Hostetler Carol wrote: "Why are there only YOUR reviews on my good reads log. I would be interested in the opinions of more than one person."

I think what's happening is that your log is showing reviews (and other feeds) from people you've selected as "friend" or "following." It so happens that the "friends" and "following" you've selected don't post reviews and comments as often as I do. It also depends on how your "friends" and "following" have set their "feeds" setting in their privacy settings.

If you want more comments from others I suggest you select more people to follow. One way to do this is to open the menu under "Community" tab at the top of the GR page and the scroll down to "People" and you will see a list of the "Most popular 99 reviewers this week in The United States." Open up some of their reviews and see if you like their writing. If you "follow" some of these reviewers, their reviews should start showing up on your Goodreads log.


message 3: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Gosh, it sounds quite a challenging book to read - and also challenging to review. I read your review with interest.


message 4: by Clif (last edited Jan 05, 2020 02:16PM) (new) - added it

Clif Hostetler Caroline wrote: "Gosh, it sounds quite a challenging book to read - and also challenging to review. I read your review with interest."

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead has won so many awards (listed below) that I knew I couldn't get away with simply saying that it was bad historical fiction.
- Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,
- National Book Award for Fiction,
- Goodreads Choice Awards Best Historical Fiction


message 5: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Ah, interesting... Thank you.


message 6: by Alfred (new)

Alfred Haplo Clif, glad you did pick up another Colson after reading the The Nickel Boys. I do remember some reluctance back then, as stated above. I might read this book sometime. Nice review, thanks!


message 7: by Clif (new) - added it

Clif Hostetler Alfred wrote: "Clif, glad you did pick up another Colson after reading the The Nickel Boys. I do remember some reluctance back then, as stated above. I might read this book sometime. Nice review, thanks!"

Your comment prompted me to go back and look at my review of The Nickel Boys and was reminded of our exchange of comments at that time. All the awards and positive reviews that Underground Railroad has received is a curious thing. Most of the published reviews don't seem to be at all bothered by the fantasy RR. Which makes me wonder if there's something wrong with my judgment and taste.


message 8: by Alfred (new)

Alfred Haplo Oh, judgment and taste can never be wrong... Reading experience is very individualized, after all. Also, often it is the dissenting or objective review that is the most truthful in the midst of all the fawning published reviews for award-winning works.


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