Thursday, April 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This was my first audiobook. My husband and I listened to it on our anniversary vacation in Hawaii (Kauai and Kona).

The narrator is Bahni Turpin and she is quite impressive. She provided individual voices for each of the characters and her vocal inflections communicate the nuances of the story and made the book a delightful experience. I would probably "read" another audiobook by her from an author I was ambivalent about just because she was the narrator! (Yes, she is that good.)

I'm not sure I'm a fan of the audiobook experience overall. I feel like I did not have as continuously engaged an experience with the audiobook as I would have had if I had read the book in either "dead tree" or electronic form. But it was fun to share the experience with my hubby. There were some scenes and plot points that my husband asked me about that I missed but as a whole the book was the source of many thoughtful and interesting conversations, which is one of the key reasons to read, in my humble opinion.

All that being said, The Underground Railroad  is very effective at depicting the horrors of slavery and illustrating the toxic effects of white supremacy and legal racial subordination on both Black and White people. There's an especially affecting scene when the ramifications of harboring a fugitive slave in a upside-down version of North Carolina become chillingly clear.

Another thing that comes across is how difficult life was back then without the modern technological advances we are now used to (in 2017); I'm not talking about fancy inventions like iPhones and electric cars and the Internet, but basic necessities of modern life we almost always take for granted like antibiotics and anesthesia and electricity. 

The Underground Railroad also points out all the different ways that people's humanity is degraded by the various horrible jobs (slave catcher, slave boss, overseer et cetera) that they are forced to undertake in order to survive. This is true of the black people and the white people in the book.

Although its calling card is the fact that the "metaphorical" Underground Railroad we have heard of in history books is a real thing in the book, to me this was a minor point, and even a bit silly. The primary selling point of The Underground Railroad is its depiction of slavery (even in a fictionalized, heightened form).

The Underground Railroad is also a compelling (and action-packed) story about what happens to a number of slaves named Cora and Cesar.

Title: The Underground Railroad.
Colson Whitehead.
Paperback: 320 pages.
Date Published: August 2, 2016.
Date Read: January 17, 2017.

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


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