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The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club)

A Novel
Written by: Colson Whitehead
Narrated by: Bahni Turpin
Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins
4 out of 5 stars (50 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2017

The Newest Oprah Book Club 2016 Selection

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver's Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

©2016 Colson Whitehead (P)2016 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Bahni Turpin's narration is near perfection as she captures the emotional heart of this audiobook.... By using well-crafted dialect and authentic-sounding accents, Turpin believably dramatizes the wide range of characters.... Turpin's strong performance combined with author Whitehead's affecting writing makes this the one audiobook you cannot miss." ( AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • JQR
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 2016-12-01

Stupendous book, hard to follow in audio

I started this on a drive but ended up buying the Kindle version and reading it. It's one of the best books I ever read; deeply moving, vivid, and important. But his time cuts and character introductions make it hard to follow as a listener. The reader was fine; it's the book's structure that's challenging.

103 of 109 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Nicole
  • 2017-06-01

Hard to follow in audio format

Any additional comments?

The story is fascinating and important, but there are aspects to the story that make it hard to follow in this format. It felt like there were opening quotes, or ads searching for missing slaves at the introduction of each chapter, which didn't translate well in audio. There is also quite a bit of reminiscing done by the characters which also became difficult to understand.I may go back and re-read this sometime because I feel like I kept missing parts. I would recommend the book, but I would recommend reading it as opposed to listening.

67 of 71 people found this review helpful

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  • Chip Auger
  • 2018-11-05

Wait! What?

Mr. Colson does a excellent job of portraying the abhorrent cruelty of slavery as it was practiced in the United States. However, it’s difficult to find a reason why he veered so far away from credible history. In Colson’s underground railroad, steam locomotives actually travel through early nineteenth century stone tunnels under the South. There is also a high-rise in South Carolina. In this version of American history, the antebellum South Carolina government is rescuing slaves from the plantation by purchasing them and teaching them to read. While, at the same time forcing tubal ligations on the emancipated women, a procedure not performed until after the Civil War. Is this supposed to be allegorical, and I missed it? And all of this in the first five chapters. I quit reading at this point.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • j phillips
  • ibillinsly@gmail
  • 2017-08-18

Narrator is fantastic and the story is a Good one

What did you love best about The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club)?

I like the narrator a lot. I can't make it through a novel unless the narrator is competent, no matter how good the narrative is.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I liked all of the characters. Even the unlikable characters were fun to hear about.

Have you listened to any of Bahni Turpin’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No I have not, but I will listen to more in the future if she narrates novels in which I am interested. She was the perfect narrator for this story.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I did not laugh, as this is not a comedic novel, and I have never cried while listening to an audiobook. My reaction was not extreme, but I was interested in the story for the entire way through it.

Any additional comments?

This is brilliant concept in regards to the actual Underground Railroad. I like what the author has done here, and I imagine this novel will be studied in literature classes in the future. I do suggest giving it a try.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • serine
  • 2016-08-07

Great info, weak story

The subject matter is wonderful and I applaud the efforts of the author to include many details that are often isolated to academic articles. However, though strong on the academic side, the storytelling failed to engage me in the way that really good historical fiction should. I feel almost bad giving a book with a fantastic subject less than a fantastic review, but it simply didn't live up to the hype. The good news is that there is still room for an author who can provide excellent research *and* an engaging story.

I would say that the subject matter is important enough that I would recommend this book, even if the story could have been better.

70 of 88 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • mgiffen
  • 2018-10-09

Disappointing Departure from Reality

I love historical fiction, and I even like a bit of historical "fantasy", but I draw the line when the writer changes the facts of history. This book depicts the unjust life of a slave, and the reasons that he or she would risk everything for freedom, but I just could not suspend my disbelief enough to accept that the Underground Railroad was an actual train that ran underground. Also, some of the stops on the railroad were just plain unbelievable. I consulted with an expert of that time and place, to find out if there was anything like the comfortable welcome for escaped slaves in South Carolina, which provided them with food, shelter, clothing, vocational training, and job placement. She assured me that she'd never heard of such a thing. The author's use of language was good, but the characters became stereotypical cardboard cutouts without much soul, moving through an unrecognizable series of settings on their way north, stopping in every state along the way. These are my personal reactions to the book, and I'm sure others would like it, but it's not for me. It's modeled on Candide, I think.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tiki Levinson
  • Naknek, AK USA
  • 2018-08-03

Why?

The narration is fantastic. The story line though? Why did the author choose to revise the history? It makes me wonder what in the book was based on factual research and what was conjecture.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2018-07-25

Under ground railroad

I have read faster moving books this was very slow. Narrative was very good and the story content was very poor. Nothing new here.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • B
  • 2018-07-16

Disappointing

Historical fiction within the confines of reality is one thing and wholly acceptable, but remaking a fantasy out of a make believe train is another. I read the first half of the book thinking it an accurate historical presentation of slavery and then realizing later in the book that it’s a fantasy. It’s not even a good marriage of history and fiction, but a splicing together of reality with fantasy and creative license. All of a sudden there was a make believe underground train. What?! I couldn’t finish it. This is not a historical fiction work. Not worth the read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Shelley
  • Newburgh, IN, United States
  • 2016-08-09

Hard to follow

I was interested in the premise of the book. For there to be an actual Underground Railroad is a very interesting concept. However, the story was very difficult to follow because you were constantly changing back and forth in time. Trying to maintain who was speaking in reference to what was confusing. It was just not as interesting as I'd hoped it would be.

42 of 56 people found this review helpful