This beautiful book by American novelist Colson Whitehead has won a tonne of awards, including the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, and it’s no surprise.
Perfectly crafted, The Underground Railroad tells the tale of Cora – a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia in the early 1800s – and the brutal truths of living in the southern states of America as an African slave. There are few books that have made me feel as lucky to have been born in Australia, in the 1980s, than The Underground Railroad.
After escaping the plantation with fellow slave Caesar, the pair travel the Underground Railroad, a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Trying to find freedom, Cora and Caeser endure harrowing difficulty after difficulty, facing endless racism and constantly fearing for their lives.
While the book is a piece of fiction, it draws on truths from the era and delivers a powerful blow. There is no flowery language in The Underground Railroad, no need to draw on reader emotions using long descriptions of torture, punishment, and abject misery. Instead, the writing is succinct and direct; the effect of which actually packs a stronger punch in the desolation stakes, and left me feeling raw with feelings of utter sadness for all that our protagonist had to endure.
This is a book that everyone should read. It is powerful, important and heartbreaking.
Reviewed by Celeste