What I’m Reading: The Underground Railroad

I just finished up the book The Underground Railroad (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Colson Whitehead.  I had seen a lot of hype about this book so I decided to give it a try.  Our daughter Kayla had given me an Audible gift card to use while I was recovering so that had me browsing the titles at Audible.  I like historical fiction so I felt this might be a good candidate.


It the past I’ve had love/hate relationships with Oprah’s book club selections.  I either love them, or hate them.

Here’s what I thought about this one….Meh.  Not overly wonderful.  Not bad.  Do I recommend it?  Not really.  Here’s some reasons why.

-there are untrue elements that run through the book.  In the book it says that the main character actually road on a train that was underground.  That is not what the real underground railroad was.

-It was hard to get close to the main character.

-The story jumps everywhere.  From the current to the past to the in between.  At one point a whole chapter talks about a situation that I feel was never tied into the story.

-There was no author’s page at the end.  There are factual and fiction points to this story that I feel should have been referenced at the end.  At one point they tell about African Americans being injected with diseases and being encouraged to be sterilized once they were free.  I want to know if any of that were factual based.  The book doesn’t say.

Here’s what Amazon had to say, “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.
     In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
     Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.”

Amazon readers give the book 3.8 stars.  I’m going to agree.

Sometimes I hate that books get so much hype…I think my expectation grows and then sadly I sometimes get disappointed.

3 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: The Underground Railroad

  1. ShirlR

    Oh, My Lord! Amazon’s description, “Whitehead’s ingenuous conception” about an actual railroad operating beneath the Southern soils is not ingenuous, it’s ridiculous! It astounds me that anyone could base a novel on such a blatant misconstruction of events occurring in this shameful period in this nation’s history. The title grabbed me until I read that sentence in Amazon’s review; it was all downhill from there. I, too, like historical novels but I share your question – how many other untruths are woven into the story.

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  2. Robby

    I saw an article panning this book a week or so ago. They were not impressed with it as either a piece of fiction or history. Thanks for the honest review.

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  3. Pam in Illinois

    Oh,my! I , too, have steered away from the Oprah book club books. I thought this one would be different. NOT! I started reading it and then gave to my sister to read. Told her I would finish it later. I was wondering about the train underground. My sister and I talked about it and sort of laughed at the concept. Glad I wasn’t the only one to raise my brows at that one I might try to get thru it when she is finished.

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