The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: Book Review


“And America too is a delusion, the grandest one of all.  The White race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land.  To kill Indians.  Make War. Enslave their brothers.  This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft and cruelty.  Yet here we are.”

“The word we.  In some ways, the only thing we have in common is the colour of our skin.  Our ancestors came from all over the African continent.  It’s quite large.”

“Black hands built the White House, the seat of our nation’s government.  The word we.  We are not one people but many different people.  How can one person speak for this great, beautiful race – which is not one race but many, with a million desires and hopes and wishes for ourselves and our children.”

The words of black activist Lander at the conclusion of Colson Whitehead’s monumental novel about slavery.

And yet, this man, made it to the White House.

obama_sotu_2016_ap_img.jpgTo represent a race that has been shackled and burdoned for centuries. only to pass it back into the hands of a disgusting white supremacist, the likes of which stride the evil pages of this wondrous novel.


A white man that dies his skin orange.  Perhaps because of the shame of his innermost thoughts.

In Whitehead’s novel he makes the Underground Railroad a real thing.  A metaphor for the metaphor that was the actual Underground Railroad.  A nationwide collaboration between white slavery abolitionists.

It’s genius to do that.

The story is one slave’s journey (Cora) from Georgia to ‘The North’ where slavery has been abolished in, well I don’t know, maybe the 1860’s.

It deservedly won, not only the National Book Award, but the Pulitzer Prize for fiction too.

It really is monumental.  Cora is chased from here to there, stumbling upon the Underground Railroad, again and again.  And all the while pursued by an evil slave catcher set to the task by her owner, Terence Randall, of cotton picking Georgia.

I won’t say any more, I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Just promise me one thing; you’ll read it.

Whitehead’s prose takes a little getting used to and there’s many a stumble along the way.  Appropriately so.

And while it’s all fiction, its resonance and sense of history, of evilness, is breathtaking in its grip.

Many books are called masterpieces.  This should be one of them.