Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadTitle: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Genre: Historical Fiction
Date: 2017 (2016)
Publisher: Fleet
Pages: 367
Started: 5th July 2018
Completed: 10th July 2018
Rating: 4/5
Summary: 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.

Colson Whitehead is the author of six novels with The Underground Railroad being his latest work of fiction. He has also written two nonfiction books: The Colossus of New York (2003) and The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death (2014).

The Underground Railroad has won several prizes including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

For more information, you can check out his website:

I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it wasn’t for the book club I’m currently in but this is what we decided on so I read it. I’m so glad I did because it was wonderful on so many different levels.

The plot was heartbreaking and eye-opening. It follows the story of a young girl, Cora, who is trying to escape slavery and become a free woman in the North of the USA. She encounters so many different types of people, those who attempt to help her and those who attempt to force her back into slavery or kill her on sight, but she perseveres. I’m not sure if I reacted to this book differently because I’m from the UK rather than the US but I know my own country’s disgusting part in the slave trade so the premise left me heartbroken. I cried while reading this book, which is unusual for me, but I was just so affected by the characters and what was happening to them that I couldn’t contain my feelings. The writing style is blunt, perhaps too direct for some readers as the book describes the atrocities that Cora and the other characters face with an almost casual ease, but I think the bluntness of the writing is what makes the book so powerful. It doesn’t skirt around what happened but instead, it presents it for all the world to witness, even those who still deny what occurred.

Cora is a fascinating character and she’s a wonderful main character. She’s strong, independent, and so brave but that’s because she has to be. She has been shaped by the brutal reality of her life and the lives of those around her. Cora is determined to secure her freedom even though everything is against her and you (obviously) root for her success and I spent every moment of the book just wishing that I could help her to safety.

I was a tad concerned that the book would perpetuate the myth that the real Underground Railroad was an actual railroad but it was well done and didn’t make it too confusing for readers that don’t know much about the Underground Railroad. I really liked the concept once I started reading the book.

Overall, I loved this book but I didn’t enjoy it. The plot was tragic and heartwrenching but the writing style was wonderfully straightforward. I would wholeheartedly recommend reading this book. I think it can teach us a lot and hopefully, it will inspire people to think more closely about the past and what it means for our present and future.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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