Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Slavery With a Twist

In my quest to read all the Fiction Pulitzer Prize winners, there have been several books about slavery. However, the two I recently completed each include a little twist that made it different from previous reads.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is last year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The twist in this novel is that there's an actual railroad underground that takes runaway slaves to depots run by station masters that are individuals helping and hiding slaves on their way north to freedom. The story follows Cora, who runs away from a plantation in Georgia with her friend Caesar.  At one point, they stop in South Carolina, where they are given jobs and apartments. However, Cora learns that the hospital wants to sterilize all blacks, so she retreats underground and takes a train to the next station. The story captures some of the other atrocities  (beatings, killings, etc) of the slave trade at that time as well.There's also a slave catcher named Ridgeway who shows up several times in pursuit of escaped slaves. Fortunately, Cora eventually ends up on a farm in Indiana with other runaways. When the farm is overrun by those wanting to capture and return the slaves, she escapes and joins a group of wagons going west. This is a well-written, engaging, and fairly quick read.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones is the 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner. This story is set in the mid-1850s in a fictional county in the state of Virginia. The twist in this novel is that it is about a free black man, Henry Townsend, who owns slaves. The story begins on Henry's plantation, but there are many story lines that meander around throughout the book. There are references to events in the past and things that happen in the future. It was sometimes difficult to keep up with the numerous characters: August & Mildred Townsend (Henry's parents who worked to earn their own and Henry's freedom), Moses (the overseer on Henry's plantation), Fern (a free black lady who could pass herself off as white, but instead owns slaves and has a school for free black children), John Skiffington (the white sheriff who oversees the slave patrollers), William Robbins (the largest slave owner in the country), and many more! This book is very well-written, although as always it was tough to read about the treatment of slaves from their masters, in this case white and black masters.

Have you read either of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Interesting reads. Learning history through creative novels I think makes history come alive. I have not read either of these books. In school, some of our history classes had required reading about the large Canadian underground railroad network that helped many of the slaves escape. Many settled in our maritime provinces.

  2. I've read a lot about both books, but not read either of them myself. Tracy really enjoyed The Underground Railroad which he read for his men's book group.

  3. I have not read these books. But, I have read many historical fiction about slavery. One of my favorites is The Kitchen House. That's the first one that popped in to my mind.


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