Review Room

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Audiobook Review : Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Written By: amodini - Aug• 16•17

Title : Underground Railroad
Author : Colson Whitehead
Narrators : Bahni Turpin
Genre : Historical
Publisher : RandomHouse
Listening Length : 10 hours 44 minutes
Rating : 3.5/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

This book imagines the underground railroad, to be an actual railroad, instead of what it actually was – a network of secret escape routes for slaves to escape to the north or to Canada. Here we follow Cora, who is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Cora’s cruel master dies and his even crueler brother takes over, which makes living conditions worse. When Caesar, a new slave, broaches the topic of escape, Cora grabs her chance and the two of them make their way up north via the railroad.

This is Cora’s story, and her journey to freedom. Through her eyes, we get to see the horrors of slavery. Extreme cruelty, debasement, humiliation, sexual exploitation is the norm, not the exception. As Cora makes her way through South Carolina and North Carolina, she has slave-catcher Ridgeway nipping at her heels. Her flight to freedom has many ups and downs, when she believes she is safe, but finds later that she is not.

This was a good book, but it got more documentary-like as it progressed. Whitehead sketches his characters well – we get to know Cora, her mother Mabel, the only slave to have escaped the plantation and Ridgeway’s net, and her grandmother Ajarry who was kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery. He does a great job chronicling the cruelties meted out to slaves via this inhuman institution – that to me was the most important part of this book – to realize that breath-taking cruelty wasn’t a one-off punishment, but a way of life, and meted out by the slave-owners just because they could. Whitehead describes the emotional turmoil, the loss of control and dignity the slaves experience, and it was harrowing just to read the descriptions.

Narrator Turpin has a slightly nasally, humid voice. Her sedate and calm reading is excellent, and helped me enjoy this book even more.

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