Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Unabridged Audio Version
I listened to the unabridged audio version of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and narrated by Bahni Turpin. Listening time for The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is 10 hours, 43 minutes.

The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017 and was also an Oprah Book Club Selection in 2016. For these two main reasons, I decided to read this novel despite the fact that I find Oprah Book Club Selections hit or miss for me personally.

I thought the first 20% of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead started off rather slowly. I almost decided to call it quits...  But I am glad I chose to push forward as things did begin to pick up after that.

As far as the entire novel goes, I liked The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, but didn't love it. I enjoyed how the plot unfolded, the various plot twists and turns, and the use of magical realism when describing the underground railroad itself as a literal railroad that people traveled on. I enjoyed reading about the various characters found within The Underground Railroad. I also enjoyed seeing each state Cora travels to through her eyes and how she comes to experience an entirely new world of possibility and wonderment during each leg of her journey to freedom.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a difficult novel to read. The brutality of slavery, the appalling living/working conditions of life on a plantation, the thought of being considered someone else's property, being separated from one's family when a slave owner sells off your husband, children, parents, siblings, etc. on a whim, or even being considered less than equal to white people are all points touched upon while reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Colson Whitehead does do a wonderful job of weaving in the various chapters together to make a solid, credible story.

Learning about what really happened to Mabel (Cora's mother) in a chapter near the end of the novel, the chapter about Ethel's background life, and the chapters on South Carolina and about life on the Valentine Farm were some of the most riveting chapters in the novel for me to hear.

The ending of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is the type of ending that leaves it up to the reader's imagination on  Cora's fate, which is fine...  The assumption for me is that she finds freedom with the people she meets up with in the end. But I was hoping for a bit more details for the ending of this particular novel.

One of the best features of this audiobook was the narrator, Bahni Turpin. She's a phenomenal narrator!!

The following is a plot summary for The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead from Audible:
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver's Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Below is the author Colson Whitehead discussing The Underground Railroad.

I am giving The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead a rating of 3.5 stars out 5 stars.

Until my next post, happy reading!!


  1. You are right, this novel contains some very brutal scenes. But you made it through, as did I, and now we know how life was for so many people in our country. I also had hope for Cora but given how it had gone for her so far, truthfully I could imagine many different outcomes. I wonder if the author meant for us to try to predict her future and then realize how unpredictable it could be.

    1. You know, I like your interpretation that "the author meant for us to try to predict her future and then realize how unpredictable it could be." It is true that life is unpredictable for sure!

  2. Great analysis of this audiobook! You don't seem as taken with the story as Judy and other bloggers I follow were, but reading is an unique experience; the narrator and the cadence of the narration can make or break a story. Based on what I've read, I'm putting this one on my wishlist. It hadn't piqued my interest before, so I guess your reading experience was more powerful than you thought it had been.

    1. Glad you enjoyed my review... And yes, a narrator and make or break a listening experience when dealing with audiobooks. Bahni Turpin is one of the best narrators I've come across.