The Underground Railroad

A Novel
Hardcover

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From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

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.

Praise

"Nothing, not one thing or activity, can replace the experience of a good read—being transported to a different land, a different realm, through words and language. I just finished an advance copy of Colson Whitehead's new novel, The Underground Railroad. Every now and then a book comes along that reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in, and stays forever. This is one. It's a tour de force, and I don't say that lightly."
— Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine

"Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels playing fast and loose with 'real life,' both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet. . . . Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller's deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass' grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft's rococo fantasies…and that's when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is. Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank."
--Kirkus (starred review)

"[S]pellbinding and ferocious.... The story is literature at its finest and history at its most barbaric. Would that this novel were required reading for every American citizen." 
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reader's Guide

1.  How does the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compare to other depictions in literature and film?

The Noble Hustle

An NPR Best Book of the Year In 2011, Grantland magazine gave bestselling novelist Colson Whitehead $10,000 to play at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It was… More