A complex story that would have been better explored in the written word rather than by audio, which is how I experienced it.
What’s powerful about this book is its bleak depiction of the cruelties of slavery – of the lives of slaves on plantations, of slaves on the run who are hunted like animals and never feel safe, and even of free black men and women in a time where their brothers and sisters are kept as property.
The story centres on Cora – a black woman with some degree of freedom through her mother’s possession of a small pocket of land, although no matter what she does, she cannot escape capture and enslavement. She escapes and lives under an assumed name but is taken – she is freed again and lives amongst other runaway slaves, but that same slave-catcher comes for her. I guess like Cora, none of us can escape this history.
It’s important to understand that Whitehead has included many fantastical and anachronistic elements in the novel – likely to suggest the connections between many human cruelties and the ongoing nature of these. For example, Whitehead makes the metaphorical underground railroad into a real one. Cora also encounters a eugenics movement – this time looking to sterilise black women to limit the number of blacks in America.
Fascinating and compelling, this is indeed a story worth attention, discussion and no doubt at some point – study in schools.