I buy books on Amazon for my Kindle when they are cheap. Somehow, I ended up buying this one about a month ago, having no idea it was going to win the Pulitzer. Did you know only four authors have won two Pultizers? Booth Tarkington, William Faulker, John Updike, and Colson Whitehead. I was shocked that it was so few, but also of who wasn’t on the list… Steinbeck, Hemingway, Toni Morrison to start.
I read The Underground Railroad before it won the Pultizer and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a tough read, but worth it. When I heard amazing things about this one, I bought it when the price dropped and added to my ever-growing “to read” category on my kindle (currently the home of 90+ books). Once it won, though, I bumped it to the top and am very glad I did.
The story is a fictionalized account of a home for boys in Florida where juveniles are sent to “rehabilitate.” The real school is the Dozier Home for Boys which operated for over 100 years. Once closed, authorities found the unmarked graves of over 50 boys and noted over 100 deaths. This story follows Elwood, who is sent there just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but is otherwise a good kid with a bright future.
Not only is this story captivating, but the writing is top-notch. Whitehead’s language is subtle and understated, but powerful and sticks with you. I can see why he won again. The two books I’ve read of his follow a similar concept: fictionalized accounts of real events/places, but not only do these accounts create meaning for the reader by putting the reader inside the environment, but Whitehead also creates emotions by letting the reader see the nasty side of it all. Some books, literally, whitewash events. Books like American Dirt, for example. It’s impossible to get inside the psyche of a person of a certain culture unless you are that culture. A white person’s perspective of the Underground Railroad would be just words, emptiness. And although Whitehead didn’t live through slavery, his experience is much different than a white person’s and should be afforded the respect and the benefit of the doubt that he (and any “own voices” author) can capture his culture best. That’s what I love about his books. I’m getting to see a side of people that is honest and real and raw and genuine, and I respect that.