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Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Hello everyone, before we get into this review, I would like to announce something. I am adding another member to my blogging team. My boyfriend, David. He has wanted to review books for a long time and I thought this would be the perfect place for him to do it. He reads different genres to me and I felt that it would give Loisreadsbooks more variety. You can find out more about me and David in the About Me page. So, David will be writing posts on Loisreadsbooks, here is his first book review, enjoy!

Title: The Underground Railroad (2016)
Author: Colson Whitehead
Genre: Historical Fiction and Cultural (African American)
Publisher: Fleet
Release Date: 1st December 2016
Rating: ★★★★☆


Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape. Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey.


This novel follows the plight of Cora, a young slave girl working on a cotton plantation in Georgia, as she attempts to escape the horrors of slavery.

I had never read any of Colson Whitehead’s work until this book and had never come across him as an author previously. My girlfriend bought “The Underground Railway” for my birthday having heard positive reviews of it, as it was winner of the National Book Award in 2016 and was recommended by Barrack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. In this novel, Whitehead exposes the horrors and depressing brutality of the slave trade in all of its gory detail, but also tells the story of those brave enough to stand against it.

As I began reading this novel I have to admit I was initially somewhat confused as to whom the characters were and what was going on. Whitehead writes in such a way that the reader is thrust head first into the action of the story without the winding introductions of characters and their relationships, which is more traditional in many books today. Although for some readers this has been a point of criticism, as they feel that the characters are poorly developed, I believe the opposite.  I found the lack of long descriptive and explanatory passages made the story fast-paced and exciting and demanded my concentration and engagement with the characters. Once I came to grips with Whitehead’s unique style, I came to find it incredibly refreshing and enjoyable. It was a unique experience, investing in a character based on their actions in the story rather than what is reported to us by a narrator, and one which I became increasingly fond of over the course of the novel.

Another aspect of Whitehead’s writing I particularly enjoyed was the powerful, emotional impact it often had. At times Whitehead writes with a poetic beauty, which can conjure up powerful emotions from joy or anger to utter misery and depression. A particularly poignant piece of writing which best demonstrates Whitehead’s skill was his powerful summary of slavery “Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood”. Whitehead is also capable of writing for emotional impact at the other end of the spectrum however, with blunt and matter of fact descriptions of horrific acts of violence and cruelty which really hit home how these were facts of life for slaves “Randall’s visitors sipped spiced rum as Big Anthony was doused with oil and roasted. The witnesses were spared his screams, as his manhood had been cut off on the first day, stuffed in his mouth, and sewn in.”.

The story as a whole piece is an interesting journey following the stylised idea of The Underground Railroad being an actual underground train track, which allows our protagonist to travel from state to state, with each state showing a different attitude towards slavery.

If I had to have one criticism of the novel it would be that I would have liked to have seen a little more exploration of the Northern states which had much more abolitionist views regarding slavery, however I understand that the point of this novel is to show the horrors of slavery and that to do otherwise might have lessened the impact of the novel.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this period of history, but also to any person living in a western society. It is all too easy to forget that much of the wealth we have today was built on the back of crushed minorities in the era of colonial empire and expansion. As a westerner, I found this novel to be incredibly humbling and it strengthened my belief that all people, no matter their, race, background or creed are all one and the same and deserve equal treatment and respect. This book serves as a potent reminder of what happens when people believe they are superior to one another and is much needed at a time where far right movements and hate crime are on the rise across Europe and America.


Thank you David for this review. I cannot wait for more of your reviews. Let David know in the comments below what you think of his review and him joining Loisreadsbooks.

Be sure to check it out on Book Depository using the link here: Loisreadsbooks Book Depository

Find me on Twitter @Loisreadsbooks, on Facebook here, and on Goodreads here

Until next time,

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

  1. Welcome to the blogging world David. Really great first review 😀 I have been curious about this book. I have seen the cover around, but haven’t read what the book is about. It sounds really interesting, I’m adding it to my wish list 😀


  2. Welcome, David! I think this is such a great review 😀 I’ve been interested in this book for a while, but I haven’t picked it up yet. I’m going to put it on a priority list now, I think. It sounds really interesting. And like you said, as someone from a Western society, I need to not forget what we built this on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent first review! Welcome to the blogosphere, David.
    I’ve heard a lot about this book, but haven’t looked into it for myself. I’m going to have to get the sample from Amazon now! As regards the early challenges to the book, the fact that it takes more work to get into a book isn’t a bad thing. I guess this is proof of that. There are ton of easy books out there. This sounds good to me!

    Liked by 1 person

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