Underground Railroad (Whitehead) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
[A] potent, almost hallucinatory novel.... It possesses the chilling matter-of-fact power of the slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, with echoes of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift…. He has told a story essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


[T]ouches on the historical novel and the slave story, but what it does with those genres is striking and imaginative…carefully built and stunningly daring; it is also, both in expected and unexpected ways, dense, substantial and important…. [Whitehead] opens his eyes where the rest of us would rather look away. In this, The Underground Railroad is courageous but never gratuitous.... The Underground Railroad becomes something much more interesting than a historical novel. It doesn't merely tell us about what happened; it also tells us what might have happened. Whitehead's imagination, unconstrained by stubborn facts, takes the novel to new places in the narrative of slavery, or rather to places where it actually has something new to say. If the role of the novel, as Milan Kundera argues in a beautiful essay, is to say what only the novel can say, The Underground Railroad achieves the task by small shifts in perspective: It moves a couple of feet to one side, and suddenly there are strange skyscrapers on the ground of the American South and a railroad running under it, and the novel is taking us somewhere we have never been before.…The Underground Railroad is Whitehead's…attempt at getting things right, not by telling us what we already know but by vindicating the powers of fiction to interpret the world. In its exploration of the foundational sins of America, it is a brave and necessary book.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez - New York Times Book Review

 
Far and away the most anticipated literary novel of the year, The Underground Railroad marks a new triumph for Whitehead…. [A] book that resonates with deep emotional timbre. The Underground Railroad reanimates the slave narrative, disrupts our settled sense of the past and stretches the ligaments of history right into our own era.... The canon of essential novels about America's peculiar institution just grew by one.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


With this novel, Colson Whitehead proves that he belongs on any short list of America's greatest authors—his talent and range are beyond impressive and impossible to ignore. The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece, as much a searing document of a cruel history as a uniquely brilliant work of fiction.
Michael Schaub - NPR


[T]hink Toni Morrison (Beloved), Alex Haley (Roots); think 12 Years a Slave…[A]n electrifying novel…a great adventure tale, teeming with memorable characters…. Tense, graphic, uplifting and informed, this is a story to share and remember (Book of the Week).
People


(Starred review.) "Each thing had a value... In America the quirk was that people were things." So observes Ajarry, taken from Africa as a girl in the mid-18th century to be sold and resold and sold again.... The story is literature at its finest and history at its most barbaric. Would that this novel were required reading for every American citizen.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Whitehead...puts escaped slaves Cora and Caesar on what is literally an underground railroad, using such brief magical realist touches to enhance our understanding of the African American experience.... [He] continues ratcheting up both imagery and tension.... [A] work that raises the bar for fiction addressing slavery. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal


(Starred review.) Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller's deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass' grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft's rococo fantasies…and that's when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.... [Whitehead] is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.
Kirkus Reviews

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