Currently reading - The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
"Cora had heard Michael recite the Declaration of Independence back on the Randall plantation many times, his voice drifting through the village like an angry phantom. She didn't understand the words, most of them at any rate, but created equal was not lost on her. The white men who wrote it didn't understand it either, if all men did not truly mean all men. Not if they snatched away what belonged to other people, whether it was something you could hold in your hand, like dirt, or something you could not, like freedom."
Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad)
If you've read any of my other book-related posts, then you will be well aware of my love affair with historical fiction, and this reading experience was no different. I devoured this book over the half-term holiday - digesting each morsel of a page faster than the last in my frantic desire to know the conclusion.
The Underground Railroad is the very definition of historical fiction.
Historic in it's setting - pre-Civil War America.
Fiction in that Whitehead's characterization of this era of slavery and of those who endured it is often a better reflection of his own imagination than of more factual accounts.
Perhaps this is not the most accurate representation of slavery. As one Goodreads reviewer put it, "This would not be the title you should expect will give you a rich understanding of the real underground railroad for escaped slaves." Yet, it is exactly this creative license - (spoiler alert) the underground railroad is portrayed as a literal railroad, complete with actual trains - that allows the story to drive at something deeper.
Rather than nit pick over the facts, the Underground Railroad focuses on the emotional and intellectual development of its characters, and especially the role of trauma in shaping this.
Whitehead delivers frank and often harsh depictions of cruelty and injustice (a definite trigger warning for those who are sensitive to violence), but tempers this with an almost fairytale-like narrative, reminiscent of traditional storytelling.
Most inspiring of all is that ownership over all of this is granted not to the masters or abolitionists, nor to the benevolent white men and women who light the way north, but to Cora - the runaway slave, and this adds a heady level of truth that is impossible to tear your gaze from.
The Underground Railroad was released to great acclaim and it's not hard to see why. The story is both firmly rooted in history and also obscenely and devastatingly relevant to the present day. The book is bold and brash, and reads like a cool drink on a hot, summers day - quenching a thirst that you didn't even know you had.
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