In pre-civil war era, Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation with a reputation. Living in a little shack known as the hob with a tiny patch of dirt to grow yams, she’s known to take a swing with her hatchet to protect herself and her crops. She’s grown up in slavery, and her mother warned her about having to watch out for herself- a lesson that becomes priority when her mother disappears late in the night, leaving ten-year old Cora behind. As Cora reaches her teen years, she catches the eye of a man named Caesar, who asks her is she wants to run away with him to freedom in the North. At first she declines, scared of the risk involved, but then the plantation master makes it clear that he too has his eye on her. She then decides to run with Caesar to get on the underground railroad.
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I have to admit, I struggled with this one, eventually DNF’ing about 40% into the audiobook. Reading about slavery always makes me uncomfortable, knowing that humans did this to other humans. In general, though, I find the historical underground railroad fascinating- the clever networking, the risk and danger of all those involved, the bravery of those that were considered operators running the rescues, etc- so I was disappointed to find that in Whitehead’s novel, he took creative license to make it an actual railroad, as well as change the political atmosphere of the southern states. There is still a lot of factual, historical accuracy when it comes to the treatment of slaves and runaways, but I thought that the way Whitehead executed the story made it difficult to become emotionally involved as a reader. His main character and plot tends to get lost in his historical description, facts, and observations.
I am really disappointed to have come to this conclusion, because this novel has gotten such positive acclaim, and many excellent reviews. I think for that alone, I would still recommend others read it. Just because I cannot seem to get into this novel doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth reading, and considering I only made it just under halfway though the book, there’s potential for the story’s emotional grip to grow towards the end.
If you have read this, please tell me what you think!