Sometimes simplicity is better than complexity. And this book is a perfect example of this idea. Last year, I read two books by Toni Morrison. She is second to none, honestly. However, her writing is so dense that it takes a long time to get through her books. And this isn’t a bad thing at all. I am in awe of her command of the written word. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is another author that comes to mind for being complex. The language is meant to be savored.
But there are times when language distracts from the purity of the story, so simple is better. And I say this with tremendous respect and appreciation for the simplicity because sometimes the story itself needs to shine. This is what I kept thinking while reading The Underground Railroad. And it’s not that the author, Colson Whitehead, isn’t an amazing writer, because he absolutely is. But the language was interesting, but reigned in and appropriate, which allowed for the characters and plot to be the main focus. Sometimes less is better.
The story starts with Cora living as a slave on the Randall plantation. Quickly, her friend Caesar asks her to escape with him, knowing full well that if they are caught their punishment will be horrific. However, they take the risk and run for the Underground Railroad. Escaped slaves were often hunted down by slave catchers, and this book explores that. A man named Ridgeway has made it his mission to find them. Cora has a variety of life experiences, getting tastes of freedom then getting them ripped away. She learns who she can trust simply by the look in their eyes and their posture. No matter what her situation, she tries to find the best in it, always looking behind her, though.
This book doesn’t mince words when it comes to the terrible life most slaves led. Their punishments are beyond harsh. Their lives reduced to a simple existence. This is why the language Whitehead uses is so important. This story is too important to tell with clever turns of phrase and elaborate, unnecessary details. Cora’s life and soul jumps off the page from the moment we meet her. As hard as this book is to stomach, it was beautifully written and absolutely worth reading.