Sunday, July 22, 2018
Colson Whitehead - The Underground Railroad (Fleet, 2017) ***
In "The Underground Railroad", American author Colson Whitehead describes the escape from slavery by Cora through the famous 'underground railroad', the escape route for slaves which linked various houses of volunteers as so many stations on a virtual track to freedom.
The 15-year old Cora escapes the plantation where she lives in Georgia, trying to follow her mother Mabel, who escaped before, deserting her child. This fact is what keeps tormenting the main character, wondering why she did this.
Whitehead is a great story-teller, with vivid scenes and strong characters. Especially the first chapters describing life in the plantation is strong, then gradually the narrative becomes thinner, possibly written faster than the first chapters, and expanding the narrative too much instead of keeping intense and concentrated density. Why the virtual 'underground railroad' becomes a real train underground in the novel remains a mystery to me, especially because it deflates the importance of the real efforts to move above ground from one shelter to the next. It somehow turns the gravity of the real events into something more fantasy-rich and hence lighthearted.
Be that as it may, the story is captivating, and any story that can describe the horrors of what people lived through in times of slavery is worth telling,