Tag Archives: little brown

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

the-underground-railroad-by-colson-whitehead Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-0708898390
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love the choices made by Oprah for her book club. She does a brilliant job of it. I also think that single-handedly she has had a huge role to play in getting America to read. I remember it was 2000 or something like that I when I was first introduced to her book club. Internet was in the very nascent stages in India and we had Star Plus though (it had not become Star World yet I think) and there was the Oprah Winfrey Show that would air every morning at 6 am and I would watch it religiously. That is when I was introduced to her book club and since then I have been a fan. From what is been told, Oprah actually got the publishers of this selection to sort of push the date of publishing right back so she could announce it on her network. I am mighty impressed and she is one of the few people who can pull this off.

The latest book (not Love, Warrior) that I have read from the stable is “The Underground Railroad” and I must say that I was mesmerized by this book. I have not read any other work of Colson Whitehead and always wanted to start with Sag Harbor but I am glad that it was this book that started it for me. “The Underground Railroad” is brutal. It is fictitious but I am sure that most of it has happened – and perhaps it is easy to talk about suffering in fiction than it is in the form of a memoir or biography. I honestly believe in this. I think that when you speak of human redemption, suffering or something that is so heartbreaking, fiction will get more people to connect to it.
So what is the book all about? Why am I raving about it?

The book is the story of Cora, the young runaway slave from Georgia. It is also about Caesar and how they both flee the Randall plantation and head north via an actual underground railroad. The story is set in 1812 and must I say that this book is not for the weak-hearted. There is a lot of violence and emotional torture but it had to be told because there is no escaping it. You cannot and must not sugar-coat sorrow. So Cora and Caesar are on the run and while that happens, Cora manages to kill a white boy who tries to capture her. From there on they are hunted endlessly and how they manage to do what they want to makes for the rest of the story.

Colson’s writing reminds me of Morrison. There are passages and sentences that will leave you breathless and you will reach out for that glass of water. It will happen. You will get angry because slavery is just not what should ever exist. You will also cheer for Cora and for some people she meets along the way. You will mainly hoot for the perseverance and courage of the protagonist and want to change things in your life. “The Underground Railroad” is not just a book about slavery, it is also a book about humanity and how there is always a way out. A must read this year and it will not disappoint you at all.

An Interview with Emma Donoghue

So I loved reading “Room” by Emma Donoghue. You can read the review here I was so taken in by the book, that I decided to interview Emma Donoghue via email. Here is a quick interview:

How did the story of “Room” come about? Why the unusual theme?

Oh, I’ve written about more unusual things in my historical fiction: one of my short stories is about a woman in eighteenth-century England who pretended to give birth to rabbits! So you can see I have no fear of freakish subjects.  ROOM came about because I had two kids (of 4 and 1) when I heard about the Fritzl case in Austria, and I instantly thought of writing a novel from the point of view of such a child-set-free.

How was it to envision a novel from the perspective of a five-year old? Did it have its own set of challenges?

It’s a limitation, yes, but limitations are writers’ friends: it meant there was no danger of the book rambling or losing its way.  I worked hard on coming up with a form of grammar and idiom which would be child-like but not actually as confusing as a real five-year-old’s.

The theme of “Room” is a very strong one. How did it impact you as a writer?

It was a joy to write.  I knew what I was doing, technically, and I knew that my themes were ones that matter to everyone.

 There was underline, “Fear” that I felt while reading the book. I wanted Ma and Jack to be safe. Was the element of fear and apprehension difficult to deal with while writing the book?  

No, I must admit that thinking ‘aha, my readers will feel terrified here’ is a great comfort and reassurance to a writer.  What frightens us is the idea of you readers getting bored and putting down the book.

How does it feel to be short-listed for “Room”?

Absolutely wonderful.  I think the Booker endorsement will persuade many people to tackle this book who might otherwise have been turned off by the premise.

If you were the one parent in a room, how would you manage things?

Badly.  I suspect I would let the child watch TV 24 hours a day.

Was the approach to Room deliberately fairy-taleish?

Absolutely.  I wanted the novel to work as realism but also to have this whole other archetypal pattern, which alludes to fairytales as well as Greek myths and above all the Mary and Jesus story.

How is beauty found in the unbearable, just like Jack and Ma do in the book?

I have frequently found that my best writing emerges from the almost unbearable.