The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Epilogue Book Club is now reading the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Colson Whitehead. We will be reading and commenting on The Underground Railroad until May 13, 2018.

Here’s some links about this book that you might find of interest:

BOOK DISCUSSION LINKS – Please click any link to go to the post where you can share your thoughts regarding these questions:

01 – What were your initial impressions of the book?

02 – What did you think of the characters that Cora encountered?

03 – What did you think of Cora and her situation?

8 thoughts on “The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead”

  1. Hi

    I will see about getting this book and getting back into the swing of things.

    About myself, I work full time sometimes that means interesting travel to places like India and sometimes it just means Kansas. In my spare time, I help look after my small Alpaca farm and create in as many forms of fiber art as I can

    1. Thanks Lynne, I got the book on Sunday but haven’t started reading yet. I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things too.

  2. Well started it but going to have to count this as a fail, The writing style was all over the place, seemed a strange mix of reality and fantasy and quite brutal in places.

    1. I’ve started reading too, but the book hasn’t captured my imagination yet. I agree, the writing style does seem to be all over the place and disjointed. I hope it gets better as I continue reading.

  3. I looked around for some questions that we can consider as we read the book, and I found these from Oprah’s book club website (link is shown below). I don’t think we need to discuss each of these questions, but I’m going to keep them in mind and make notes as I read the book – I’ll post my reactions in a later comment.

    Questions to consider:

    1. How does the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compare to other depictions in literature and film?

    2. The scenes on Randall’s plantation are horrific—how did the writing affect you as a reader?

    3. In North Carolina, institutions like doctor’s offices and museums that were supposed to help ‘black uplift’ were corrupt and unethical. How do Cora’s challenges in North Carolina mirror what America is still struggling with today?

    4. Cora constructs elaborate daydreams about her life as a free woman and dedicates herself to reading and expanding her education. What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

    5. “The treasure, of course, was the underground railroad… Some might call freedom the dearest currency of all.” How does this quote shape the story for you?

    6. How does Ethel’s backstory, her relationship with slavery and Cora’s use of her home affect you?

    7. What are your impressions of John Valentine’s vision for the farm?

    8. When speaking of Valentine’s Farm, Cora explains “Even if the adults were free of the shackles that held them fast, bondage had stolen too much time. Only the children could take full advantage of their dreaming. If the white men let them.” What makes this so impactful both in the novel and today?

    9. What do you think about Terrance Randall’s fate?

    10. How do you feel about Cora’s mother’s decision to run away? How does your opinion of Cora’s mother change once you’ve learned about her fate?

    11. Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader: if things are going well, you get comfortable before a sudden tragedy. What does this sense of fear do to you as you’re reading?

    12. Who do you connect with most in the novel and why?

    13. How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

    14. The book emphasizes how slaves were treated as property and reduced to objects. Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

    15. Why do you think the author chose to portray a literal railroad? How did this aspect of magical realism impact your concept of how the real underground railroad worked?

    16. Does The Underground Railroad change the way you look at the history of America, especially in the time of slavery and abolitionism?


  4. Tonight I finished reading this amazing book. The story depicted slavery in a much more brutal way than any other story I can recall reading. As I worked my way through the book, the terms, “white privilege” (a term I have struggled to understand) and “black lives matter” have played over and over again in my mind. I also think of “black holocaust”, a term I had only recently heard, yet as I read of Cora’s experiences and observations in North Carolina, shares so many similarities to the Jewish holocaust.

    I need to take a day or two to think about this book and let its story gel in my mind before I can write much about it. I am appalled and moved beyond description for the things that occurred in this story. I think this is an important book that will stand the test of time and, ad hard as it was to read, I am glad to have read it.

  5. The book club has finished reading “The Underground Railroad” and are now reading “The Road.”

    Comments for this book will close in 30 days, so if you have any comments you’d like to contribute to this book discussion, please post them before June 21.

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