|(photo credit: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs)|
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
3 words: brutal, lyrical, magical realism
At BEA, it was clear that Colson Whitehead’s forthcoming book was gonna be one of THE books of the fall publishing season. And I felt really lucky to have the opportunity to gush briefly at the author himself and to secure an ARC of The Underground Railroad.
And then I started reading the book, and it was an even more intense experience than I had anticipated. (That’s saying something.)
First, the book pulls the reader in immediately. Cora, the main character, and those who surround her on her journey north, became real people the moment I met them.
Cora’s life has been pretty darn horrific, and when she sets off for freedom via the Underground Railroad, I’m sad to say it remains rather horrific.
But then there are brief periods of calm, when I’d think, “She’s gonna be OK. She’s made it to a good place.”
Whitehead doesn’t hold back and he doesn’t shield his characters from the harshness of the reality they faced. It makes for some wrenching reading.
And again I was reminded of the power of fiction to convey truth.
Second, I realized early on that I was reading a Colson Whitehead book. Because here’s the thing: in this novel, the Underground Railroad is depicted as an actual underground railroad.
And each state has its own slavery culture, with its own horrors to learn anew. So, again, even though the book wasn’t a factual depiction of life in (and escaping) slavery, the story wields enormous emotional power, and some of that strength comes through its symbolism.
And third, the language. Oh, dear people, the way this writer writes. It’s enough to take your breath away. He writes with a lyrical precision that is stunning.
And then Oprah announced that this is her book club pick, and then the book was released early. Publishing surprise, guys!
As we careen toward autumn, what books are on your radar?