As a boy, Colson Whitehead imagined an underground railroad full of steam engines that ran through tunnels deep beneath the Antebellum earth on routes that stretch to indeterminate places. He was disappointed to discover the railroad—as important as it was in helping escaped slave reach freedom—was only a metaphor.
In his unflinching new novel, The Underground Railroad, Whitehead makes the metaphor literal—and literary.
The novel focuses on Cora, a young slave toiling on a Georgia plantation owned by the Randall family. When the patriarch of the family dies, his household slaves are invited to serve as pallbearers—a position of honor that reflects his former esteem for them. His sons take over the plantation: James, with “a nautilus disposition, burrowing into his private appetites,” and Terrance, who “inflicted every fleeting and deep-seated fancy on all in his power.”
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