The Underground Railroad
Award winning (Pulitzer and National Book Award) and now I see why.
Whitehead’s railroad is at once metaphorical and real. Each station along its path delivers the young runaway slave, Cora, to a different future. The places range from seemingly benevolent (at least on the surface) to outright hostile. However, danger, brutality, and death are everywhere for the slaves and those who dared to help them.
Cora is relentlessly pursued by Ridgeway, a slave catcher whose views sound eerily familiar.
“In another country they would have been criminals, but this was America.”
“…I prefer the American spirit, the one that called us from the Old World to the new, to conquer and build and civilize. And destroy that what needs to be destroyed. To lift up the lesser races. If not lift up, subjugate, exterminate. Our destiny by divine prescription—the American imperative.
Cora learns to read and educates herself with almanacs and gazettes. But she already knew the injustice of the world.
“The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of heir masters…But the ideals they held for themselves, they denied to others.”
The number of slaves grew to accommodate cotton. As their numbers grew, so did fear of an uprising.
“That was Sea Island cotton the slaver had ordered for his rows, but scattered among the seeds were those of violence and death, and that crop grew fast.”
Echoes of that hate and fear are sadly still evident today.
“Here’s one delusion: that we can escape slavery. We can’t. Its scars will never fade.”
And the author offers the teensiest bit of hope.
“The world may be mean, but people don’t have to be, not if they refuse.”
You’re going to think I like everything I read. Not true. After reading this book, I dove right into Jodi Piccoult’s Small Great Things, thinking I could tie the two together. You know, racism then and now. It was so well-written, the anger and hatred so real, so visceral it was painful to read. It hurt my heart. I chose not to read after the first quarter of the book. I had a similar reaction when I read her Handle with Care. It was just too sad. I stopped reading her books.
Nonetheless, when a book is worth sharing, I will. I recommend The Underground Railroad to you.