Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Book Review The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead {living outside the stacks}


TitleThe Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 306

ABOUT THE BOOK {from the flap}

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 a white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.


Colson Whitehead is the New York Times bestselling author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.

You can find out more about Colson Whitehead by visiting his website. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Book Review The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead {living outside the stacks}


This is not a book that you like or dislike. This is a book that you read, put down, and think about for days on end. The subject is sensitive and the topics are still relevant today: violence against women/men, racism and the way it impacts all people, silence/{in}action in the face of injustice, education, and the idea of freedom.

The characters were well written, sympathetic {when they needed to be} and monstrous {when expected}. I found myself invested in the characters. I didn’t want to know just about the black characters, but the white characters as well. And Whitehead delivered. I liked the way he gave the characters a history and wrapped up each character’s story without it being contrived or forced.

I know some folks are bothered by the fact that Whitehead uses a literal underground railroad as the transportation system for escaped slaves versus a metaphorical one. I don’t have a problem with this. This is a novel, not a history book, so I expect the author to use a bit of literary license. In fact, I would say that the idea of an actual underground railroad enhances the feelings of fear and anxiety about the known and unknown worlds that {escaped} slaves inhabited.

This book does contain some violence, some of it is graphic {and sexual in nature}, but given the topic, that is to be expected. To show how engrossed I was in the story, I don’t recall there being any harsh or coarse language, so if there was any it was used to propel the story and not just as a filler.

I would recommend this book for discussion groups and literature classes. There is so much to unpack in this story that I’m afraid my review can’t do it justice, but if you do read it, I’d love to discuss it with you.


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  • Melissa G

    Looks like a good book to read. There is a lot of underground railroad history right here where I live, so I’m always interested in learning more about that part of history. And for me, historical fiction is one of the best ways to learn.

    • This is more historical fiction with a twist of fantasy. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for historical accuracy. While this novel was well researched, the author does apply his imagination to a lot of details {mostly the construction of the underground railroad}.

  • I was thinking about reading thus. Thanks for the review!

    • I think if I were going to sum it up in two words, they’d be: psychological thriller. While some of the horrors are actual and can be seen and felt by the main character, Cora, I think it’s the unknown that gets her the most.

  • Sandra

    oh good, I heard his interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I will read the book.

    • I would love to hear an author talk on this book. Like I said in my review, there are so many topics that he explores {most of which are still relevant today}.

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