The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

2/5 Stars

The Underground Railroad is a story about Cora who escapes her life of slavery on a cotton plantation in Georgia, it follows her through her struggles trying to find safety and a normal life.

I read, ok read half of, Colson Whiteheads Underground Railroad and was not so impressed. Now I feel like the worst person ever saying that when taking into account the subject matter…but I just didn’t care for it. I found it difficult to connect with the characters and was very distanced from them, so much so that when horrific events were happening in their lives, I found myself to be extremely apathetic. I didn’t feel like they were real people and I so wanted to. I wanted to be swept up in their lives and feel the pain and injustices of their situations. I wanted to feel the hopelessness of waiting to be rescued and the freedom and relief of finding a safe haven. Instead I was extremely bored and it almost felt like I was reading a text book and certain events and situations were just being ticked off a giant list somewhere.  Everyone is also talking about the brilliant metaphor that is the railroad in this tale, to be fair I’m not a huge fan of magical realism (or is it speculative fiction??), but it was not enough to elevate the story for me. It all seemed very literal, exactly replicating situations that would have occurred to an escaping slave…but just sticking in a real train instead of the network of people actually used. Maybe this is were I missed the human element and the stories and sacrifices of the people who assisted.  Perhaps I’m just not smart enough to appreciate the subtle nuance of this story. At around the half way mark when our main protagonist was yet again waiting in the dark recesses of the railroad for a train to whisk her away from a terrible situation, I gave up. Judge me as you will, but the siren call of other books won my attention and the Underground Railroad wallowed in my ereader until the library loan period expired.

So this was my first read from the Manbooker long list this year, and I am not surprised it has been nominated. It is very highly acclaimed in the highbrow circles and seems like it fits right in with previous winners and nominees. Needless to say it is not my pick for the win, or even the short list. But judging from previous lists and the amount of buzz around it I can see it being one of the 6 on the shortlist.

Manbooker 1/13