2016 National Book Award for Fiction
2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
2017 Morning News Tournament of Books Winner
2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Whitehead manages to convey the whole horrible history of slavery — the African slavers, the transatlantic passage, the slave auctions, and the toxic environment of the Southern plantation — in the first three pages of this novel, using simple language and a notable absence of melodrama. It's an artistic coup that develops into a page-turner that imagines a real underground railroad system ferrying slaves to freedom, and the slave catchers who want to see it destroyed. The Underground Railroad is full of brutality that can be hard to stomach, but its complex characters and evocation of a time and experience alien to most readers is well worth it. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Colson Whitehead imagines a literal Underground Railroad in his latest novel of the same name. Stealthily shuttling blacks from the South to the North, the operators of the railroad are hyperaware of every possibility, but still, every moment discovery seems imminent. Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation, is helped with her escape, but even when she seems safe, fear is her constant companion. Her harrowing run from her owner is truly the stuff of literature. Don't miss Whitehead's National Book Award–winning scathing commentary on the Antebellum South. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood — where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned — Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
"Kept me up at night, had my heart in my throat, almost afraid to turn the next page." Oprah Winfrey, (Oprah’s Book Club 2016 selection)
"[A] potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery....He has told a story essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present." The New York Times
"[M]asterful, urgent…A tragic, disturbing necessity: that describes the feeling of The Underground Railroad." USA Today
"The Underground Railroad marks a new triumph for Whitehead…[A] book that resonates with deep emotional timbre....The canon of essential novels about America's peculiar institution just grew by one." Washington Post
About the Author
Colson Whitehead is the New York Times bestselling author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.