The Underground Railroad was the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, and the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. It is also in Oprah’s Book Club, receiving a lot of critical acclaim since its release August 2016.
The story is about primarily about a slave name Cora who is trying to free herself from absolute harshest of conditions of a Georgia plantation. Her mother Mabel, was allegedly the only slave to ever successfully escape the plantation and the infamous slave catcher Ridgeway. Caesar, another slave, comes to this Georgia plantation where Cora is and works out a plan to run the North by means of the Underground Railroad. He eventually convinces Cora to come with him. This is where I will stop to avoid giving away anymore of the book.
This is sobering book filled with violent detail of the mentality towards and treatment of slaves. Because of that, it was hard to listen to (audiobook) at times. Thankfully, after the beginning of the book, the violence/repulsive actions (things said and done to the slaves) calmed down but still reared its ugly head every so often. Although I cringed, wanted to stop or speed through those parts, I felt they were ultimately necessary to set the stage for the rest of the story. Cora’s plantation she grew up at was not only brutal for her because of her slave owners but also because of how most of the other slaves treated her.
Cora is a survivor pure and simple. I really enjoyed her character because although she wasn’t particularly talented or gifted, treated as an outcast, dismissed by many: she preserved. Perseverance was clearly her greatest strength. She essentially lived on her own from 10/11 years old and no matter the suffering, the trials, Cora kept moving forward. Her perseverance is such an admirable quality that reminds me so much of Louie Zamperini from the book “Unbroken” (WWII Olympian POW true story by Laura Hillenbrand”. You follow Cora’s story and think, “ Come on, can this girl catch a break?” “Is she ever going to break this vicious cycle of hardship in her life?”
I suppose I was foolish to expect some sort of happier ending for this book; not quite the Hallmark TV movie cheesy good feeling type of ending, but something definitive that things were on the right track for Cora. This isn’t that type of book though and I think that author deserves a lot of credit for being realistic and true to what were the realities of that time in history. This book is well written and even though it was different that I thought it would be, I appreciate how the author crafted this story. This is the kind of book where it was such a taxing journey, such realism and emotion you felt, that you aren’t going to be to re-read this again soon, if ever again. If I had to compare it to movies that gave this type of feeling where I was stirred with emotion, appreciated the film greatly, but never care to see them again: “Life is Beautiful”, “Schindler’s List” come to the forefront of my mind as examples.
(out of 5 stars)