The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club)

  • by Colson Whitehead
  • Narrated by Bahni Turpin
  • 10 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2017
The Newest Oprah Book Club 2016 Selection
From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.

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.

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What the Critics Say

"Bahni Turpin's narration is near perfection as she captures the emotional heart of this audiobook.... By using well-crafted dialect and authentic-sounding accents, Turpin believably dramatizes the wide range of characters.... Turpin's strong performance combined with author Whitehead's affecting writing makes this the one audiobook you cannot miss." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Stupendous book, hard to follow in audio

I started this on a drive but ended up buying the Kindle version and reading it. It's one of the best books I ever read; deeply moving, vivid, and important. But his time cuts and character introductions make it hard to follow as a listener. The reader was fine; it's the book's structure that's challenging.
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- JQR

Don't Miss This Train 🚂

I put off reading this book initially because the idea of an Underground Railroad actually involving real trains running underground felt too much like fantasy, a genre I'm not often drawn to. But I'm very glad I finally took the plunge and gave it a try. What a fantastic achievement this novel represents! Colson Whitehead has penned a modern classic, destined to become even more of a phenomenon once the movie is made. The adventures of Cora on her journey are described in a lean but gorgeous, mesmerizing, Hemingway-like prose that manages to give the reader a clear sense of the horrors of slavery and the nuances of race relations moving forward, but magically somehow without hitting the reader over the head with explicit descriptions or gory details. Comparisons to Gulliver's Travels or Watership Down are apt; each new state Cora arrives in has a distinct character and unique, often comparatively bizarre local customs. Also, Oprah was right: the climax is heart-poundingly intense and riveting. I loved it and it's going to stay with me for a long time; I finished it several days ago and can't stop thinking about it.

Some other reviewers seemed put off by the narrator, but I thought she was PERFECT for this material. The voices she gave to the characters were spot-on; her rate of speech and delivery were exactly suited to the tone of the writing. I enjoyed listening more than reading this one on my Kindle because of her flawless performance.
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- Gretchen SLP

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-02-2016
  • Publisher: Random House Audio