The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club)

  • by Colson Whitehead
  • Narrated by Bahni Turpin
  • 10 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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

Gripping

The narrator was excellent! I was unable to out it down! I plan to recommend this book to friends and family.
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- Brandie

Imagining a railroad underground


Whether an author resents the spotlight (Franzen) or views the distinction as manna from heaven, once a book has been branded with The Oprah Winfrey Book Club sticker, I generally feel inclined to pass – only because I am concerned my opinion will be swayed by the shadow of the mega-star. Even here, with a subject I am drawn to, I have to wonder if this is a book that I would have read, and in hindsight I think it's a good book that got a boost. Either way, it was a worthwhile read that I would recommend on its own merits. My early desire to learn about slavery in America was actually ignited by way of Siam (Thailand), circa 1860....

Margaret Landon wrote a novel based on the diaries of Anna Harriette Leonowens that in 1956 would become the fifth musical by the acclaimed team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The novel was Anna and the King of Siam; the musical was The King and I starring Yul Bryner and Deborah Kerr. As a young child, I saw the film on TV, but I wasn’t too young to experience one of my first *Aha Moments.* The servants of the king stage a surreally beautiful Siamese version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." I told my mother I wanted to be a dancer, and more importantly, I wanted to read the book about Uncle Tom's Cabin. I wouldn't sit down with Eliza, Tom, and the monstrously cruel Simon Legree until years later, but Stowe’s 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly,” even though less grand than I expected, ignited the initial spark that helped me understand the inhumanity of slavery.

Author Colson Whitehead sets out to give us history through the haze of a nightmare, imagining the legendary Underground Railroad as an actual train that actually runs underground. Whitehead's railroad is a white-knuckle dark journey where the desperate passengers must blindly put their trust in shadowy strangers; directions and destinations are obscure; the cost to ride may very likely be the escapee's life, or possibly abuse that could make them wish to be dead. To set out to even find the passage to freedom is to step off into the unknown. It is a riveting and emotional read that’s hard to put down. Parts of the story felt nightmarish, otherworldly: the towns where the slaves would hideout, the weekly hanging spectacles, the betrayal by neighbors; at times it had a bizarre carnival atmosphere.

The story succeeds in the tradition of most books in this genre, reminding us of the barbarism and unimaginable cruelties endured by these men, women and children. Additionally, I felt it was more psychological, drawing the reader into the strategies and thinking of Cora. The writing needs to be noted; it is incredible. Whitehead has plenty of official accolades and awards -- it's obvious as you read Underground Railroad that he is an author that deserves the attention. In the future, if considering a novel, his name will be a selling point for me
.
My feelings, however, were conflicted. I didn't love the actualized metaphor of the underground railroad. I felt in some way it simplified the journey of these people in an otherwise excellent novel. Underground Railroad is worth a read, a reminder – it’s another chapter of the experience, but it didn't enlarge the facts or expand the experience for me. The perspective of imagining, the *what-if* hovered over the story like an interruption. It might be the specter of The Oprah Winfrey Book Club sticker, but it's hard for me to rate this completely objectively. I stick to my first opinion...a good book that got a boost.
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- Mel

Book Details

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