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The Underground Railroad (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

This will live in my head forever and will definitely be a novel I reread for the rest of my life. I was already blown away by Colson's writing and The Underground Railroad raised the bar higher than I could have imagined. This story melds together everything a historical fiction aspires to hold-beauty, powerful prose, tragic and hopeful storytlines, and characters that are real. With the imagining of an actual underground railroad and a dark part of our country's history that is too often ignored or minimalized, I felt like I was getting both a history course and literature course at once.

— Elena - Books Inc. Marketing & Events

I've read a fair number of slave journals and novels about slavery (my favorite = James McBride's Song Yet Sung), so I was thoroughly pleased when I found The Underground Railroad to be a fresh take (similar to how I felt that All The Light We Cannot See was a fresh take on WW II, about which I have also read a fair amount).  I love how Whitehead combined a personal story with a more universal chorus of voices and experiences.  His deft weaving in of post-slavery African American experiences/atrocities, like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the Eugenics movement's sterilization programs, etc. was brilliant, as was contextualizing it all in the history of the U.S., especially manifest destiny's ruthless march west, that also opened up such promise.

— Ann in Alameda

An unflinching and imaginative look at slavery and one woman's determination to free herself.

— Heidi in Mountain View

— Dominique at Books Inc. in Palo Alto

staff review

— Robin at Books Inc. in Santa Clara

September 2016 Indie Next List

“Whitehead's new novel is much more than the story of a runaway slave, Cora, who fights her way to the North; it is also a phantasmagorical look at race in America. In this instance the railroad is literal -- a train roaring through tunnels constructed like a subway, leading Cora to several unlikely destinations. Like the travels of Gulliver, each of Cora's stops on the railroad is a different version of America, displaying the varied ways in which Americans view race and manifest destiny. With exquisite prose, Colson digs deep into the troubled heart of America, exposing prejudice, tolerance, hatred, violence, and love as readers stop at each distinct station. Cora is a hero for the ages, and Whitehead is a writer who can guide us, like a station master, into the light. This is a fantastic novel.”
— William Carl (E), Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, the #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood--where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned--Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor--engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver's Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey--hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

About the Author

Colson Whitehead is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the 2016 National Book Award, and named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, as well as The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York. He is also a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. He lives in New York City.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780385542364
ISBN-10: 0385542364
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016
Pages: 320
Language: English