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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Just Finished Reading... The Underground Railroad By Colson Whitehead

I heard about this novel on Radio National last weekend, in an interview with the author, and downloaded it from iBooks immediately.

A fascinating premise! We've all heard of the Underground Railroad, of course, that network of ordinary people who helped smuggle escaped slaves out of the South, at the risk of their own lives. But it wasn't a real railroad, underground or otherwise, right?

Well, the author of this novel asks, what if it was? What if there really were tunnels under the homes and barns of abolitionists, leading to railway tracks, with trains coming every now and then to smuggle slaves out of their bondage?

This is the only fantastical element in the story; a lot of the other elements really happened in our world. And nasty they were, too. Very nasty! The heroine, Cora, is on the run from her plantation in Georgia, and a truly horrible master who is quite willing to suppress rebellion by torturing slaves to death as an example to the others. A number of times she thinks she has found a good place to live, only to find herself pursued by Ridgeway, a professional slave catcher/bounty hunter who is obsessed with catching her, because her mother was a failure on his part.

And along the route, she sees many new "worlds" in the United States, and their different ways.

The last scene of the novel left me scratching my head. I thought, "Er... Is that it?" A very sudden ending!

But interesting. I wonder if that one element will qualify it as a piece of speculative fiction? It's certainly alternative universe, and the whole notion of "stations" and "stationmasters" is woven into the fabric of the book.

What do you think? Is it spec fic? 


Unknown said...

It's always interesting when an author takes a well-known part of history and re-imagines it. Trains can be a symbol of a changing life, so that was a good choice. Not sure I like truncated endings though... Have a great week, Sue!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Interesting, too, to have just one element changed. That's an interesting thought about trains! I gather the author was thinking of Gulliver's Travels when he wrote this - specifically, the different societies Gulliver visits.