This was a complicated read for me. On one hand I appreciated the style of writing. I was able to disappear into the plot and the characters. I could tear through page after page and not feel the time pass. On the other hand I wonder if people know that this isn’t a historically accurate book? Colson Whitehead takes us on a journey from a plantation in Georgia to…wherever Cora, the protagonist ends up. At first the book seems like it’s going to be similar to earlier novels of slaves escaping to the North. However, we get a big clue that this isn’t realistic fiction because Cora gets on an actual railroad, underground, in order to escape. This leads to further incidents along Cora’s journey that clue us in to the fantastical elements of the novel. The subtlety of the non-historical elements are so well done it’s hard to remember they never happened. This lead to my first problem with the novel. I’m afraid some will think that the scenes in South Carolina or the anti-slavery movement in North Carolina are true.
All in all I decided to give this a four because of the story telling and over all message. The unromanticized view of slavery was powerful. Even in “12 Years a Slave” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” you never get a true feeling for slave culture in the quarters. Now, we do and it reminds me of what Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed about protecting your body. Not only did the slaves owe their bodies to their masters, many times they had no control over their bodies when it came to their peers. It’s a sobering and powerful idea and one I don’t think we’ve yet overcome.