📚#HistoricalFiction The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Underground Railroad is historical fiction based on the many stories of enslaved African Americans in the early to mid-1800s.

This fictional story revolves around Cora, whose grandmother was taken from Africa; Cora and her mother were born on American soil to life on a plantation. It was brutal, made worse after Cora’s mother escaped. Cora was mis-treated and ostracised by many of the other slaves as well as the overseers and plantation owners.

Cora’s own dreams of ‘running’ are expedited after she tries to save another slave from a beating. Fellow slave Caesar invites her to escape with him; he has a friend who can get them away via the underground rail network.

This is Cora’s journey; the highs and the lows. The author gives the reader a window into the era, showing how group mentality and peer pressure make neighbour fear neighbour and rips families apart. This isn’t a light read, it is harrowing on so many levels.

I liked how the author used real trains as a metaphor for the brave souls who risked their own lives to help the runaways. Sadly, similar situations repeat themselves over and over in human history; I immediately thought of the world wars. This book has been on my ‘wish list’ for a while and I was glad when I was recently given a copy.

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Orange rose book description
Book description

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood–where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned–Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor–engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey–hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

Guest Author S.K. Nicholls

Today our guest is S.K. Nicholls, author of yesterday’s book “Red Clay and Roses”. You can check out my review of the book here. http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-4Ge

S. K. Nicholls

Let’s find out more about Susan and her writing.

1)  Where is your home town?

I was born in LaGrange, Georgia, USA, and lived in the surrounding area while bringing up my own children.

2)  How long have you been writing?

I first had a short story published when I was seventeen and in high school. I put writing aside while focused on my nursing career. Upon retirement in 2011, I picked it up again. A visit to my father in 2012 stirred up an old story from my youth that I still wanted to tell. So I set myself to writing it down.

3)  What key element inspired this book?

Based on a true story, it was finding the ledger in 1992 that truly propelled the development of the story, but there is something more. So many have this image of the Deep South as one of little old white ladies sitting on the front porch swing sipping mint juleps. Life and reality was more harsh than that for most people, especially the African Americans. I have mixed race grandchildren. I presented the world historically as it truly was for many. There was hardship, dilemma, and many secrets kept. We are more open and accepting now. I don’t want to see us go back there. We learn from history how to move forward.

4)  Did you have to do a lot of research or did you interview people too?

The octogenarians were interviewed, and my father who is seventy five. An enormous amount of research went into the book to assure its historical accuracy. All of the events and setting locations are very real, and had to be researched.

5)  I’m not sure what “Jim Crow Law” was, can you tell us more?

The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws enacted between 1876 and 1965 in the United States at the state and local level. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy, with, starting in 1890, a separate but equal status for African Americans. The separation in practice led to conditions for African Americans that tended to be inferior to those provided for white Americans systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages, and leading to prejudice and severe racism. Even though these laws were declared unconstitutional in 1965, many communities continued the segregation long into the seventies.

South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina were the Confederate states, and Kentucky was provisional.

Some examples of Jim Crow laws were; the segregation of public schools, public places (swimming pools, doctors and dentists offices), and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, clothing stores, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The U.S. military was also segregated.

“Jump Jim Crow” was a song-and-dance caricature of blacks performed by white actors painted in blackface. That is believed to be where the name Jim Crow law for this collection of state laws came from.

6) Nathan took part in several campaigns for Civil Rights, can you tell the readers about some of them.

The Freedom Rides were a campaign for blacks to assert themselves in avoiding discrimination practices. The black men would ride in the whites only passenger cars on trains. Other black men would ride in the black cars in case there was trouble, which there often was, as the white passengers rebelled and fought. Many blacks were arrested and beaten for their actions.

The Sit-Ins were started by black university students who would sit down in whites only dining establishments for the same reasons and with the same outcomes.

There were many protests, marches and demonstrations, like Bloody Sunday, some peaceful and some not so, where blacks were joined by liberal minded whites who championed the causes of Civil Right.

7) Sybil faced her own demons when she became pregnant, but she dealt with the situation as best she could. Do you think she made the right decision?

For her, it was right, but I did feel she should have been honest with Nathan, to at least let him know about the pregnancy, yet I can understand why she didn’t. Althea, Bonnie Jean and Sybil all found different ways to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Who am I to decide what was best or right for any of them?

8) When Trent was sent to prison, Sybil faced several hardships, which was worst do you think?

I think the difficulties she ran into with trying to manage her business were the hardest for her, because she had put so much of herself into its success.

9) Which part of the book was your favourite and why?

I don’t know if I have a favourite part. I liked different parts for different reasons. I liked how Ms. Bea’s character developed. I liked Moses’ stories and his character…but then, these were real people I had met in my own life. The entire story demonstrated the sacrifices that real people made in order to attempt to achieve social progress. These were common ordinary people, who were deeply affected by politics on a micro-level. The very end, in the conclusion, has special meaning to me personally as it conveys a hope for future generations. Sybil and her family are my family.

10) I would describe your book as a window in history for readers to enjoy rather than a book with a massively pleasing commercial content, am I correct?

I did not write Red Clay and Roses with marketing in mind. I wrote the story passionately from my heart based on real life events. I did not deviate from what actually occurred in order to make a more sellable story. It is a fictionalized true story. Outside the realm of genre fiction, it is a niche read.

Red Clay and Roses

Find a copy on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Thank you Susan for being our guest today.