This 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction tells the remarkable journey of one young woman’s escape from working on a southern cotton plantation in Georgia to try and make a new life in the north. The story is brutal but totally inspirational.

Readability

★★★★★★★★✰✰

Talkability

★★★★★★★★★✰

Den scores

★★★★★★★★✰✰

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

BY COLSON WHITEHEAD

366 pages

With the televised series of Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” about to reach our screens, The Den decided to read this 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. Telling the remarkable journey of one young woman’s escape from working on a southern cotton plantation in Georgia to try and make a new life in the north, the story is shocking but intensely moving and inspirational.

Cora is just 15, when she is convinced by Caesar to try the impossible – to run away from their life as slaves working on the Randall’s harsh cotton plantations in Georgia. Caesar had discovered an escape route via the underground railroad - a highly secretive, dangerous underground network which gave fugitives the opportunity to disappear and emerge in a different state further north. Whitehead uses this compelling fictional story to bring alive this period of American history in an emotive, powerful narrative.

Each time, as Cora starts her life over again and begins to feel contended with her life, so the slave catchers track her down, led by the unrelenting, ruthless Ridgeway, who has devoted his life to catching fugitives. Cora is forced to commit actions and witness scenes she could never have thought possible, but despite this, she never gives up the hope and dreams of leading a normal life.

This story lays bare the appalling injustices of slavery during this time and the white man’s capacity for evil. It is painful and the violence often takes your breath away, but Cora’s strength and determination shine through giving a personal and intimate narrative to this period of racial injustice. The current racial discriminations only too evident in America following the killing of George Floyd, make this book even more poignant.

The Underground Railroad directed by Barry Jenkins is in the making. Colson Whitehead’s latest book "The Nickel Boys" is also just out in paperback and has won him his second Pulitzer Prize.

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