My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes, fiction is the best way to handle the horrors of history. It can bring to life an era, a place, in a way that involves the reader differently than the cold facts of non-fiction. The Underground Railroad is one of the best books I've read on the evil that was the age of slavery in the United States. I live in a former Confederate State and we're still dealing with the aftermath of the "peculiar institution", peculiar because after a point it was unique to the South, and the slave owners and lawmakers fought hard to keep it alive.
Whitehead's novel incorporates elements of magic realism in the form of an actual underground railroad with cars and conductors and tracks, but this winding tale of Cora, who escapes from her life of bondage, incorporates details of the true Underground Railroad and the men and women who ran to freedom. It also focuses on Ridgeway, a slave hunter who becomes obsessed with bringing Cora back.
This is a difficult book to read, as the author unrolls the macabre reality of slave life without flinching. It's not a book one can read lightly, but it's worth the effort.
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