What if the Underground Railroad was an actual railroad? What if runaway slaves could hop aboard and travel to freedom through a series of subterranean tunnels? Aptly title, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, explores this possibility, following the escaped slave, Cora as she seeks a better life outside of the brutal one she’s known picking cotton on a plantation in Georgia.
While the concept of an actual train is pure fiction, the harsh aspects of Cora’s life are not. As a slave she was beaten for protecting a young child from the master’s whip and chose to risk the possible hazards of life on the run rather than submit to the certain abuses from those who own her.
The book has an odd cadence, and there were times when I backtracked and reread a page or two to get it to make sense to me. There is a certain dreamlike quality to some chapters, while others are stark in their recounting of cruelties rendered. But it’s ultimately satisfying.
This is a book for our times. As Cora finds peace in some destinations and horror in others we are reminded that there are still people in this world trying to escape these chilling truths, looking for a safe haven from cruel masters. We can be that safe haven.