Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad

I really liked Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad but sometimes the fantastical nature of it didn't quite work for me. In the mix of realism and altered history, the realism is the more powerful part. The depiction of slavery's brutality is potent and will stick in your head. His descriptions of the lives people make under bondage feels real. That in turn makes you feel for the characters. I wanted to keep turning pages.

The narrative drive of the novel, though, is the Underground Railroad. Not the actual historical one, but a real railroad that goes under the earth unnoticed and has stations across the South. There are quite a few other altered historical facts, though none as central. The train helped you see the changes in how each state dealt with slavery and the ways in which there was doubt about where it ended and how safe it could keep you. But the clash of real and imagined sometimes left me scratching my head.


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