Book Review | The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead


under.jpgGuys. Guys! Listen, guys: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is going to win all the awards. I have not read a book this fucking good and powerful and chilling in . . . well, I imagine it was about 1998 when I read Night by Elie Wiesel, which I thought about often while reading this god damn masterpiece.

As the astute reader may have gathered from the title, the book is about the underground railroad. While it does follow one particular character through various southern states and situations that are extremely realistic for the time, the author does take his liberties. The biggest example is that in this novel, the underground railroad is literally a railroad that runs underground. He writes it so convincingly that when I was halfway through the book and telling everyone who was willing to humor me that this is one of the greatest books ever, of all time, ever!, I kept telling them, “Also, did you know that the underground railroad was literally a railroad that ran underground?!” and they would say no, they didn’t, and then I would tell them all about how the tunnels were built and how they worked, etc. After telling this to a history major who gave me some serious side eye, but didn’t directly contradict me, bless his soul, I finally looked it up, and yes, there was not a literal railroad underground. I’d love to tell you I feel stupid about it but instead I’ll just tell you the truth, which is that Whitehead writes prose so powerful that you can feel every word deep in your old bones!

As I said above, I was constantly thinking of Night because they both explain absolutely atrocious, true things in relatively emotionless ways. The story is told with such realism and does not hold your hand as it walks you through it. This is not a book where you’re getting inside a character’s head and witnessing them going through terrible things and feeling bad for them but are still able to sleep at night. Instead, the author does such a masterful job of walking you through this story with virtually no guidance and so there’s just one option left to the reader: to process it on their own and feel it on their own terms. This is exactly how Night affected me – deeply, personally, horribly – and this is a book that should be read by all people everywhere. Whether it’s in spite of how difficult the subject matter is or because of it, I don’t care – just get yourself in front of this book (or behind, I guess, depending on how you have your reading nook set up) when it comes out in October. This is a book that’s going to be haunting me for a long, long time.

 

P.S. I received a galley of this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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