MY BOOK WORLD
Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2016.
The tight structure of this novel is based on twelve chapters—six named for characters and six named for states or regions in the US. Each one shifts readers to where they need to be to follow the life of a runaway slave, Cora, in the pre-Civil War South. Cora’s grandmother, Ajarry, was a slave, and so was her mother, Mabel, who abandons Cora when she’s eleven. Rage governs Cora’s life, fuels her temper and her senses, both of which serve to save her life as she shapeshifts to fit varying situations above ground. The unsuspecting reader who learned in elementary school that Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad was not literal is in for a fantastical ride as Whitehead brings it alive, with stations and steam engines and schedules, even a pump handcar that serves as Cora’s final vehicle of escape. The author’s grasp of history, his simple yet elegant prose, and his understanding of the complex humanity of master and slave serve to create a novel that is worthy of all the praise and accolades it has received.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017