The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

Synopsis: 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.




This is a book about hope, redemption, and darkness in the real world. It’s a brutal read, and it made me cringe more than once. Not because of bad writing or unbelievable characters or forced dialogue — no, Colton Whitehead has created an almost perfect novel in The Underground Railroad, a work I am sure will soon enough be deemed a modern classic. Hell, it’s even an Oprah’s Book Club book. That’s, like, everything.


This is the story of Cora, a teenage slave who runs away from the plantation in Georgia she’s been sold to. She embarks on a journey of highs and lows, of wonder and terror. Whitehead does an astounding job of conveying her confusion and awe once getting off the Railroad (which, in the book, is an actual train — a nice touch, I thought) the first time. The reader knows that once Cora has a taste of freedom, she will never go back.


I’m going to keep this review extremely short, because I can’t even begin to put into words the profound impact The Underground Railroad had on me. The author carved out a gem with this one. He handles a touchy, horrific subject such as slavery (and, with that, rape and murder) with great care and skill. Young Cora’s journey to the north is one I will not soon forget. I really can’t recommend this one highly enough. Check it out if you’re into historical fiction or just a really good story populated with well-drawn characters. I will be checking out more from this author!


This book is my ‘diverse author’ selection for Halloween Bingo. (I slacked off on Halloween Bingo during September. I will remedy that in October.) 


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Reading progress update: I’ve read 1 out of 320 pages.

The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

Finally continuing on with my Halloween Bingo reading! While this book isn’t ‘horror’ or ‘suspense’ I am including it as my Diverse Author selection. 

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Reading progress update: I’ve read 340 out of 340 pages.

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

I’m finally finished with this atrocity. I won’t be reviewing it; I don’t even want to remember reading it. Kudos to Scout Press for shinin’ up this turd enough to trick me into buying. Every character in it is awful, there is almost no real ‘mystery’ and the reveal is lame. But it’s over. It’s done. And I will never read another book by this author. 


This is fulfilled my ‘mystery’ square in Halloween Bingo. 

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Welcome to Taylor Ridge….

As some of you have probably noticed, I’ve been largely absent as of late. I’ve been writing fiction like a madman. I’m in a writing phase, not a reading phase. 


I’ve been working on a series of twelve short stories about a small town in Alabama — a town not unlike where I live. I’ve been doing extensive research into the history of my town, which has helped shape some of the strongest fiction I’ve created. I’ve never been more excited about a project than I am about this one. 


The stories will span the decades in this small town. The earliest year represented is 1941; the latest is 2023. I’m working diligently on the fifth story, which is quickly turning into a novella. Not that I mind! 


Anywho, I thought I’d post a small snippet from one of the stories. It’s an excerpt from a rough draft, so grammar issues might be present. I’m putting it in spoiler tags so those who don’t care to read it don’t have to. Feedback is welcome and appreciated! I’m only twenty, and despite writing for fun all my life I am new to writing ‘professionally’ (which means I’m working hard and hoping against hope that I’ll find a publishing platform someday). 


Here goes: 




“Peaches” (1941)


For my hometown


Anthony ‘Digger Ant’ Merchant hung his shovel and pickax in the maintenance barn just behind the Sawyer family plots and spat on the ground. He stomped his boots. He removed his gloves and pulled out a cigarette from the front pocket of his overalls. After exiting Plainview Cemetary’s gates, he made his way up the street with a limp in his step. It was dog days, and he was getting on up in years. He couldn’t remember if he was turning 64 or 65 come September, but he knew it wasn’t s almost retiring time. He’d been digging graves for a lot of years. The arthritis was getting quite bad.

For lack of a car Digger Ant made his way down 42nd avenue on foot, aware of the swelling crowd. He passed the First Baptist Church and the First National Bank. He passed the high school and Mo’s General Store. He made it to the town square and rested on a bench in the shade of the Confederate Memorial. Farmhands and bankers and teachers and coal miners lined the streets that crossed downtown. They crowded on the courthouse steps, buzzed in front of L.J. Vickery’s, and leaned against the front windows of Woolworth’s. Some waved American flags and others held banners. The doors of the dry cleaners stood open. Men in hats and ladies in dresses embraced one another, the smiles on their faces radiant with a fullness of life that only comes in the depth of summer, when the grass is lush and the sky is blue and daily living has taken on a leisurely pace. Their young’uns ran in high spirit, playing the games children play. Digger Ant knew them all. He had lived in Taylor Ridge, Alabama since birth.


He smelled the aroma of cotton candy. He smelled hot dogs. What wasn’t in the air was the disagreeable smell that emanated from the lumber mill. That stench usually hung over the town like a cloud. Tarker Kane must have shut down the plant for the day. Good on him. That skinflint old man usually didn’t even shut down for Christmas. From nearby was the sound of kettle popping. From a few blocks away he could hear the high school’s band warming up for the procession. A dog barked. Car horns honked. A clown juggled pins for the little ones. Adults laughed and talked, standing in clumps and nodding their heads. It was a hot day, but no one seemed to mind. The crowd continued to swell.

“Digger Ant, is that you?” a man’s strained, aged voice cried out. Digger turned and took in old Herman Curt. The man was nearing ninety, and was now completely bald. He was much shorter than Digger remembered (for it had been many a-year since the two had seen each other — Digger lived in the townhouse and Herman lived out in the county), and walked with a limp and cane. He was wearing a wrinkled, discolored blue suit — it probably the best outfit he owned. Like Digger, Herman had spent his life since childhood tilling the ground and relying on his own sweat and determination to make ends meet. Neither of them had ever needed to dress nice (except for church, o’course) before today. Today was special.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s me ya old bag! How’ve you been?” he responded, jumping up from the bench and patting the old man on the shoulder. “Sit a spell. I’ve got smokes,” Digger said,” patting the chest pocket of his dirty overalls.

Herman held his hand out for a smoke, and Digger lit it. He then lit one for himself.
“Cain’t stay,” Herman said, leaning on his cane. “Wanna get a little closer to the street’n all. I ain’t never seen a president ‘fore. Even if he ain’t worth a hoss kick in the winter, I wanna see’m!” The two men threw their heads back and laughed at this. Digger Ant could feel the warmth of the sun on his neck. It was quite a day to be alive!

“Well, you here with anyone?” Digger Ant asked the old farmer.

“Yuh, my mess of young’uns ’round here somewhere,” Herman responded, looking around. “I’ll find ’em. I ain’t afraid to move anyone outta the way with this cane.” He laughed again, showing off his tobacco-stained teeth. “Gonna go up to the college?”

“I might,” Digger answered. “Though everybody’s gonna go, reckon? Might not can get through.”

“Mayhap not, but this is a special day. Can’t believe that shit senator of ours got Roosevelt to come.”

“Well, it’s a favor for an old friend, I reckon,” Digger Ant. “It bein’ the openin’ of the college and all. I heard the senator and the president go back a ways.”

“Hmmmph,” Herman responded. “Hmmph.”

The excitement in the air was palpable.

Well, how’s Mary?” Digger Ant asked.
“Oh, Ant. She passed away — oh, must’ve been six or more months ago now. Pneumonia.”
“I hate to hear that,” Ant said, unsure of what to say. He had never married. “Holdin’ up okay?”
“I do my best. I got my gardenin’ and the farm animals to look after, y’know.”
“Still. That’s a tit.”
“Yuh. ‘Tis.”

Herman started. “Well, I’m gonna go try’n find Jackie if I can, that kid —”
“Jackie’s older’n me!” Digger Ant said. “He ain’t a kid no more, old man.”
Herman wagged his wrinkled finger and offered a fake scowl, and the two laughed again.
“Come by sometimes, and get some peaches,” Herman offered. “If you ever get out my way, ‘course. They’re mighty sweet. Picked ’em just yest’day.”
“Mmm!” Digger Ant responded. Peaches sounded nice on a day like today.
Herman looked at Digger for a moment and said, “Must get lonely at that old townhouse.”
“Oh, I make do. I make do. I stay so busy with work’n all. Peaches sound mighty fine, though. Might take ya up on that!”
“Sounds fine.” Herman then began to shoulder his way into the crowd, and townsfolk cleared a narrow path. “See yuns around!” He was swallowed by the mass of people. Digger Ant crossed the street, and stood on the corner in front of Rexall Drug. He wanted to have a nice view of the president, too.



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