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Thread: ETS Book Club Book: Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad"

  1. #181
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    Went to the local Barnes & Noble and they had a table for African American History month set up. Lots of great books by lots of great writers but there was one on the table that stuck out to me as "the manager just looked at the title." I chuckled and pointed it out to my wife. Should have taken a pic.

  2. #182
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    Just read this for a book group tomorrow, and Colson Whitehead is coming to campus to speak in April.
    Very powerful, compelling book. I agree it really makes you re-consider the reality of slavery, makes you see it anew again. Also agree that it brings slavery into the present: this is not just history, but its effects and its consequences and the ideologies that made it happen are ongoing. I also liked that it started with Africa, illustrating the sudden and violent displacement - kidnapping - of Cora's grandmother, again emphasizing how this wasn't some mythic past but an utterly tangible one.

    Dislikes: Whitehead's writing style is in places still too vague. Sometimes I'd read a sentence multiple times and still not have a clear enough idea of its meaning. Also, the structure got repetitive, with many chapters climaxing in a violent and traumatic note. But I found it much much better - in a different league - than Zone One, the only other of his novels I've read. I also wish the book had incorporated more factual history - South Carolina, for example. Yes, I know I can follow up the stuff elsewhere, but I think the book would have been strengthened by a clearer historical and factual framework.

    One question I'd have is this: there seems to be some vitriol also reserved for abolitionists - Ethel in particular, and Fletcher (those comments about his sincerity), but also other remarks here and there throughout the book. I wonder if this is part of a conversation of not lionizing abolitionists and seeing also their cowardice or self-serving reasons (for example I've been reading bell hooks and she discusses how white female abolitionists were often motivated by anti-miscegenation sentiment). I'd like to know more about that aspect of the book and where it's coming from. I guess part of it is a general mistrust of whites until they prove themselves - as Sam does. But even Sam lets Cora down in a way by downplaying the threat that Ridgeway still represents.

  3. #183
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    Re any "history," see this: http://mashable.com/2016/10/31/colso.../#3BgjqhWmnkqS

    Also remember that this book is metafiction and magical realism.

    edit: Also, I don't think there was particular "vitriol" reserved for abolitionists in this book. I think the book accurately illustrates the complicated relationship between black slaves and all white people, let alone white abolitionists. Both had great fear and mistrust of each other. Ethel and Martin were HANGED (on their own front porch!!) for harboring a slave. This brings to mind Nazis killing people who provided safe harbor to Jews. This put the rescuers in grave danger; but, the rescuers did it, anyway, despite the risks. Technically, Martin and Ethel were in danger the second that Martin ended up with Cora in his care due to the closed underground railroad station; Ethel was absolutely correct that Cora would "get them both killed." (And, remember Ethel's own backstory involving her friendship with a slave girl her own age, who was being sexually assaulted by her own father, which came to the surface when Cora became ill and Ethel lovingly cared for Cora.)
    Last edited by allegro; 03-27-2017 at 01:32 PM.

  4. #184
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    Quote Originally Posted by aggroculture View Post
    I agree it really makes you re-consider the reality of slavery, makes you see it anew again.
    No doubt.
    That aspect of it seriously shocked the SHIT out of me, as did the tangibility you mentioned.
    In fact, i didn't just RE-consider slavery. Rather, I TRULY considered it for perhaps the first time in my life.
    Last edited by elevenism; 03-27-2017 at 05:07 AM.

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