The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson WhiteheadSummary: Historical fiction imagining the Underground Railroad, as an actual Railroad.

The underlying idea of the Underground Railroad is fascinating. It feels at times like fantasy more than historical fiction. However, The Underground Railroad is as much history as fantasy. Virtual every plot point in the book is based on a real historical event. Having read this after The Half Has Never Been Told and Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution and listening to the Yale Historian David Blight’s lectures on the Civil War and Reconstruction, several of the historical events that I would not have recognized, were part of my recent memory.

I assume that the rest of the plot points that didn’t always make sense were also historical. Fiction can sometimes be more helpful in presenting history than straight history is. What is helpful about Underground Railroad is making that history real through seeing what the impacts of slavery were like on real people.

But there were many points where those insights and history felt forced. I listened to this on audiobook. But I think if this were in print, and had annotations connecting the fictional account to accounts of the actual history, I would have been more engaged and likely it would have felt less forced.

I would still recommend The Underground Railroad, but with the caveat that the reader assume that almost all of the events were based on real events.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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