Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is no stranger to many readers as he has authored several widely acclaimed books since he made his debut with The Intuitionist in 1999. His latest work, The Underground Railroad which is sharp and ingenious, follows the harrowing plight of Cora who was a young slave on the Randall estate in Georgia. Set around the year 1812, Cora’s story is all the more heart-wrenching as her mother fled the cotton plantation leaving her behind, to fend for herself. What could have prompted Cora’s mother to leave her behind is in the realm of speculation. She was never found and successfully dodged the tracker who was assigned to track her down.

While it is easy to jump to conclusions and label her as someone shorn of love and affection for Cora, reading about the immense difficulties faced by the slaves on the plantation tempered one’s judgemental attitude. It was beyond brutal – the ugly face of inhumanity laid bare. The slaves are subjected to all kinds of cruel and inhumane treatment – they are whipped, thrashed and raped at the slightest pretext and excuse. And in some instances, just for pure enjoyment and amusement. Public execution was reserved as the harshest punishment, but to many living without dignity and honor was far worse than public execution.

The arrival of a new slave, Caesar, brought hope for Cora but it was a daunting one. Author Colson Whitehead masterfully narrated their story and painted a horrific picture of slavery during the period. The character of Cora was well fleshed, and would be hard to forget. The story was well conceived and the secondary characters, especially Caesar, helped to make a solid read. All in all, this is a compelling book which will enable many readers to revisit the past though the manner in which Cora escaped was a bit farfetched. But The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a book that will haunt many readers for a long time to come.



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