Underground Railroad Wins National Book Award


Colson Whitehead won the 2016 National Book Award for fiction for Underground Railroad, the story of Cora, a young slave who escapes captivity in the South. In Whitehead’s novel the historical Underground Railroad is a literal rail network.

“Two steel rails ran the visible length of the tunnel,” Whitehead writes, “pinned into the dirt by wooden crossties. The steel ran south and north presumably, springing from some inconceivable source and shooting toward a miraculous terminus.”

And the stops along the way often are also excursions into the fantastic.

(Note for clarity: This is a different book than Ben Winters’ alternate history Underground Airlines.)

3 thoughts on “Underground Railroad Wins National Book Award

  1. Has anyone else read this yet? I checked it out from the library a couple days ago, but I have a few other books I need to prioritize first.

  2. I loved it. Doing a re-read because my litfic book club just selected it. Magical realism overlaying depressingly harsh realism. It’s technically not speculative fiction but somehow it ought to be. I guess I should throw up a trigger warning for historical accuracy.

    The railroad itself is made of real trains, rolling underground and stopping at stations that might be poor and falling apart and might put the Moscow subway to shame, all depending on the circumstances of the former slaves who built it all by hand. Cora explores several different railroad lines as she makes her way to freedom.

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