In 2017, I've really committed myself to reading more books with substance. I LOVE a breezy memoir or page turning thriller, but I find that I am able to devour these guilt free if I also find ways to work substantive novels into the mix. I thought a good way to do this was to try and complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy "Reading for Growth" list.
The book I chose to complete the "Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner" category was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. (It's also the group pick for the Goodreads Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge Group for February). Now, I KNOW you all don't need me to review this book, because it was everywhere in 2016. It was a #1 NY Times Bestseller, National Book Award Winner, and Ms. Winfrey herself selected it as a book for her book club. At any rate, I did still want to share my reactions.
I am absolutely a fan of this book, and I feel the praise was well deserved. I recommend that you not read the synopsis. (Actually, that's the way that I prefer to go into most novels- knowing that there are elements I'll like about it and not knowing much else). I read the synopsis on Amazon after I finished the book and was surprised at how much of the plot was given away. The basics: this book a fictional account of a slave named Cora and her attempt to escape from a plantation using the underground railroad. The twist is that this underground railroad is literally a railroad that, with the help of allies, transports anyone that is able to find the secret entrances to the next stop on the line. A fellow slave, Caesar, recruits Cora to escape with him because her mother had escaped years before and he believes her to be good luck. The story unfolds and we follow the two throughout their journey to South Carolina and beyond.
I wouldn't call this a thriller, but I couldn't put it down. I thought this one would be one of those books that was important to read but very tough to get through, but I was so wrong. This book is fiction first, then history. Because of this, it's accessible to all readers. I loved that Colson Whitehead told this story with respect and in a way that doesn't let us forget the horrors that occurred in the segregated South. Whitehead infuses Cora into the worst of situations, all of which are a take on true events (think the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). The story was almost Forrest Gump like in this way. Cora is a very well fleshed out character who, despite experiencing horrors that not many of us could imagine, retains a sense of humor and hope. She has become one of my favorite characters and her story will stick with me. The writing is subtle and I will come back to this and read it again. I would have liked to more know about some of the secondary characters. This book reminded me about things that were somehow glossed over in my U.S. History education, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong writing, and/or memorable female protagonists.
There were so many powerful sentences in this book, but a couple stood out to me.
Plantation justice was mean and constant, but the world was indiscriminate.
Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.
Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden.