Book Review: The Underground Railroad

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A Must Read.

The Underground Railroad has been included in almost all of the Fall Reading Lists, but then Oprah caused major sensation (as she usually does when picking her book club choices) by having the publishers release this book one month before its planned date. I don’t normally seek out the books Oprah picks, it just has something to with I don’t need her to tell me what to read. :-) However, I have a few bookish friends that are super-fans of Colson Whitehead, and I was also hearing such wonderful things about this book, that I just had to pick it up!

I’m now telling everyone I pass by, come into contact with, and even along the walk back to the library, and to the librarians themselves, I held it high saying, “Read The Underground Railroad”! Any feelings or misgivings you may have about Oprah put aside, just read it! :-) Sorry, I don’t want this to turn into something that is so closely tied to her, thought of as “her” book, you know what I mean? I know she has significant power to put books into the hands of people that might not be regular readers, but I just hope that the author himself doesn’t fall too far beneath her shadow, because he wrote the book! She just wants everyone to read it, I understand that, and I completely agree with her!

The Underground Railroad is the story of Cora and her escape from the vicious brutality of the Randall Plantation in Georgia, and her perilous, dangerous journey toward freedom, using the underground railway system. Whitehead doesn’t use the railroad metaphorically here, and this might have been the reason for some of my initial hesitation. Was this going to be somewhat like a speculative, apocalyptic novel like his, Zone One? The underground railway system is an actual train and railway system that Cora uses to flee the south toward freedom in the north and I worried some that it might touch upon the speculative as she made different stops all along the way. But, it is in no way speculative or sci-fi like at all.

Instead, it’s gut-wrenching, horrifying, gripping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat, tension-filled reading and I burned through it. I spent the majority of two days reading the bulk of this book, and neglected everyone and everything, sitting on the edge of my seat worrying for Cora and this perilous journey she was making. The first day, I was only able to read the first 50 pages and I’ll admit these were very tough to read through. I had to take a number of breaks to step away from the brutality written on the pages. But once Cora makes her escape, it becomes unputdownable! I could not stop reading. I read late, late into the second night and finished it on my third day. I had to find out what happened to Cora.

And now? Now, it’s hard to believe my time with her has come to an end. I need way more time with Cora! I need to know where she is now, what she is doing, how she is surviving. Our time with her seems far too short.

Heaps of praise for The Underground Railroad.

Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday Books for allowing me the e-book to read. I did scoop the hardcopy of it from the Windsor Public Library from the Quick Reads section too so I could read it in tree-format.

All the while reading this, I kept thinking of the underground railroad site very near to me here in Windsor. I’ve often passed it, so I looked up the John Freeman Walls Homestead to include here. (Just missed the dates when it is open to the public by a week!) The information is taken from the site: The Underground Railroad Museum.

John Freeman Walls and Jane King Walls traveled on the famous Underground Railroad from Rockingham County, North Carolina to Canada. This historic site is located in Puce, Ontario, Canada was an actual Terminal of the Underground Railroad.



This is the focal point of this site, the John Freeman Walls log cabin. This two storey log cabin was built in 1846 on a foundation of four rocks. The original floor was clay but later wood floors and siding were added over the years. John and his wife Jane raised nine children here.

John never allowed any pictures taken of himself because he was afraid of being discovered and taken back south and enslaved again. In 1985 the Detroit-Windsor Police composite artist interviewed Aunt Stella and Frank Walls and created a picture of what John looked like from their description.

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