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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

Whitehead, Colson, 1969- author

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North. In Whitehead's razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can

Paperback, Book. English. Historical. Alternative histories (Fiction).
All formats and editions (4)
Published London: Fleet, 2017
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Details

Statement of responsibility: Colson Whitehead
ISBN: 0708898408, 9780708898406
Note: Originally published: New York: Doubleday, 2016.
Physical Description: 366 pages ; 20 cm
Subject: Southern States History 1775-1865 Fiction.
Award: The Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2017
Award: The National Book Award

Author note

Colson Whitehead is the New York Times bestselling author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.

Reviews

It has invaded both my sleeping and waking thoughts . . . Each character feels alive with a singular humanity . . . Whitehead is on a roll, the reviews have been sublime
Guardian||An engrossing and harrowing novel
Sunday Times||[A] brutal, vital, devastating novel...This is a luminous, furious, wildly inventive tale that not only shines a bright light on one of the darkest periods of history, but also opens up thrilling new vistas for the form of the novel itself
Observer||This thrilling tale of escape from a deep south plantation takes in terror, beauty and the history of human tragedy..This uncanny novel never attempts to deliver a message - instead it tells one of the most compelling stories I have ever read. Cora's strong, graceful hands touch on the greatest tragedies of our history
Cynthia Bond, Guardian||It's so good it's hard to praise it without whipping out the cliches: it's an elegant, devastating powerhouse of a book, following a young black woman all over America as she tries to escape the horrors of slavery. When it was published with Oprah's imprimatur, in August, it was universally acclaimed. It deserved it
Guardian||One of the best, if not the best, book I've read this year . . . Whitehead never exploits his subject matter, and in fact it's the sparseness of the novel that makes it such a punch in the gut
Stylist||My book of the year by some distance...It's a profound and important novel, but more than anything it's an absurdly good read, gripping you in its tightly wound plot, astonishing you with its leaps of imagination. If Whitehead doesn't win every prize going next year, I'll appear on Saturday Review in my underpants
Observer, Best Fiction of 2016||Whitehead is a superb storyteller . . . [he] brilliantly intertwines his allegory with history . . . writing at the peak of his game . . . Whitehead's achievement is truly remarkable: by giving the Underground Railroad a new mythology, he has found a way of confronting other myths, older and persistent, about the United States. His book cannot have enough readers
Telegraph||It is an extraordinary novel, a rich, confident work that will deservedly win - on the basis of literary merit as well as moral purpose . . . History and human experience as well as an artist's obligation to tell the truth have shaped a virtuoso novel that should be read by every American as well as readers across the world. And it will be, it should be
Irish Times||An utterly transporting piece of storytelling
The Pool||Bestselling author Colson Whitehead's novel is a searing indictment of slavery with a detailed inventory of man's inhumanity to man - and Cora's flight is a harrowing and shocking trip for the reader
Daily Mail||A stunning, brutal and hugely imaginative book. It's a favourite of both Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. It is painful history re-imagined in a powerful and brilliant way
Emerald St||Recommended by none other than Obama AND Oprah, The Underground Railroad arrives deserving every last drop of hype that's come its way . . . There are many twists and turns in Cora's long, treacherous journey towards freedom and while The Underground Railroad is at times brutal and disturbing, it's also hopeful and an addictive, compulsive read. After reading it, a corner of your heart will always belong to Cora. An instant classic
Red||Reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in and stays forever . . . a tour de force||This bravura novel reimagines that same network as a real subterranean railway, upon which a girl named Cora flees the slave-catcher Ridgeway. Throughout, horrific experiences are rendered in lapidary prose, but it's Cora's daring that provides the story's redemptive oomph
Mail on Sunday||Inventive and hard-hitting
Metro||It is a bold way of reimagining the slave experience and, in the capable hands of Whitehead, succeeds triumphantly
Mail on Sunday||Brutal, tender, thrilling and audacious
Guardian||An enchanting tale . . . full of vivid images, learned allusions and astute observations . . . The most important and acclaimed American novel of the past year
London Review of Books||I stayed up way too late to finish this... It will be haunting me in the best way
Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You||A fantastical picaresque through the dark side of American history
Daily Telegraph||Thrilling and unsentimental
Scotsman||The Underground Railroad is a noble descendant of the great narratives of slavery, and among the very finest of its novels
Times Literary Supplement||An audaciously imagined and profoundly moving novel
Express||Stunning and unsentimental . . . required reading
Herald||A charged and important novel that pushed at the boundaries of fiction
Guardian, Best Books of 2016||Leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery . . . with echoes of Toni Morrison's Beloved, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and with brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift . . . Colson Whitehead has told a story essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present
New York Times||The Underground Railroad isn't the modern slave narrative it first appears to be. It is something grander and more piercing, a dazzling antebellum anti-myth...Whitehead's prose is quick as a runaway's footsteps
New York Review of Books||A book that resonates with deep emotional timbre. The Underground Railroad reanimates the slave narrative, disrupts our settled sense of the past and stretches the ligaments of history right into our own era . . . The story charges along with incredible power . . . The canon of essential novels about America's peculiar institution just grew by one
Washington Post||[The Underground Railroad] is really good - good, in fact, in just about every way a novel can be good . . . a grave and fully realized masterpiece, a weird blend of history and fantasy that will have critics rightfully making comparisons to Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garc?a-M?rquez
Boston Globe||This book should be required reading in classrooms across the country alongside Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. If this isn't Colson Whitehead's masterpiece, it's definitely the best book of the year and maybe the most important work of the decade
Chicago Tribune||Masterful, urgent . . . one of the finest novels written about our country's still unabsolved original sin
USA Today||The Underground Railroad has serious ambition, especially within the tradition of literary satire . . . With deadpan virtuosity and muted audacity, Whitehead integrates the historical details of slavery with the present
Los Angeles Review of Books||Whitehead is a fantastic novelist, one of the best in America today. (Certainly better than Franzen.)... Oprah is right: The Underground Railroad is Whitehead's best book yet... This is the rare critically acclaimed bestseller that deserves every ounce of its adoration, and more. The hype is real. You can believe Oprah, and its scores of other fans, including some guy who took The Underground Railroad on summer vacation and can't stop talking about its "terrific... powerful" portraiture of race in America. That fan's name is Barack Obama
Seattle Times||Magnetizing and wrenching . . . Each stop Cora makes along the Underground Railroad reveals another shocking and malignant symptom of a country riven by catastrophic conflicts, a poisonous moral crisis, and diabolical violence. Each galvanizing scene blazes with terror and indictment as Whitehead tracks the consequences of the old American imperative to seize, enslave, and profit . . . Hard-driving, lasersharp, artistically superlative, and deeply compassionate, Whitehead's unforgettable odyssey adds a clarion new facet to the literature of racial tyranny and liberation
Booklist||Startlingly original . . . Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing authority and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank
Kirkus||In powerful, precise prose, at once spellbinding and ferocious, the book follows Cora's incredible journey north, step by step . . . the story is literature at its finest and history at its most barbaric. Would that this novel were required reading for every American citizen
Publishers Weekly||Colson Whitehead's staggering, haunted new novel . . . [is] a book that is fully expected to win all the awards this year - Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, National Book Award, etc - and it deserves every last one
Chapter 16||Hard-driving, laser-sharp, artistically superlative, and deeply compassionate, Whitehead's unforgettable odyssey adds a clarion new facet to the literature of racial tyranny and liberation
Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence, shortlist announcement

Back cover copy

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, an existence made even more hellish by her status as an outcast among her fellow Africans. And she is approaching womanhood, where greater pain and danger awaits. So when Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, Cora takes the momentous decision to accompany him on his escape to the North.

In this razor-sharp novel, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form, a dilapidated box-car pulled by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Thus begins Cora's perilous journey, as she is pursued by a ruthless slave-catcher named Ridgeway, obsessed both with Cora and her mother, who eluded him years before.

The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shatteringly powerful meditation on both history and the unfulfilled promises of the present day.