Most of the time, it seems that I am on a completely different page as the people who rave about award-winning books. I feel like I usually find them interesting, or decent, but far from what I would consider AMAZING. And I hate to say it, but usually Oprah’s Book Club picks land among those I find fine, but un-extraordinary.
I am happy to be proven wrong by Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. So many people have claimed it’s amazing, have said it’s a must-read, have said it should win every award and be read by every single person, blah blah blah. I finally picked it up.
It really is beautiful.
The plot is deceptively simple: Cora, a slave in Georgia, escapes the plantation and goes North on the literal Underground Railroad, but finds herself pursued by the slave-catcher Ridgeway. But the way Whitehead develops every character, and especially Cora, brings a depth to the story that I don’t think anyone else could have done. And the pacing is gorgeous – the calmness of action when Cora finds a new place to stay is always shadowed by the knowledge that Ridgeway is coming for her, and the franticness of passages where the action kicks off makes you devour the pages.
Most of all, the writing is unbelievable. I usually can read fairly quickly, and appreciate good writing where it exists, but this book made me slow down repeatedly to take in the sentence structure and the language and the way ideas are melded together. It’s a glorious piece of literature, from the writing technicalities to the last page of the story.
I love being proven wrong. Okay, maybe not all the time, but I do with books. I like being told a book is one way and finding it another, or anticipating how I will feel about a book and then discovering my feelings were wrong. This might have been the best book to be proven wrong about.
P.S. It’s still early stages, but Barry Jenkins is going to be working on an adaptation
of this at some point. Which means it will be amazing. So read it first.