"This will be an important read” was one of the conceptions I had in approaching Underground Railroads; it was Obama’s summer reading recommendation, Oprah’s Book Club Pick, and won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize (among many other recognitions). Thinking I knew exactly what to expect it was a rather exciting to still be surprised by how enjoyable and inventive it was.
In short, it is the story of Cora’s journey from a devastating start as the daughter of a slave on a Deep South plantation that drips of painful, historical fact and on to escape and escapism via a literal (and allegorical) underground railroad – a journey towards freedom. Interspersed we have vignettes fleshing out the history of the other players in the story.
There are a host of characters helping and hindering Cora as she moves across the States. At each stop we’re given a taste of a different flavour of slavery, racism, and oppression; we see a society responding with indifference, brutality, and murder. It’s not all gloom. Although timely, Underground Railroad doesn’t make a meal out of drawing comparisons between its setting and America’s current climate; instead it leaves that to your imagination and puts the country’s history in the spotlight.
While the book doesn’t pull its punches on the horror of the time period, it also has the pace of an adventure and holds up the conceit of a fairy-tale; we’re given a thread of hope that weaves through the story.
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