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Colson Whitehead - The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead talks about his novel The Underground Railroad with James Naughtie. The book won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a place on Obama's summer reading list.

Colson Whitehead talks about his novel The Underground Railroad with James Naughtie and readers

The novel is a devastating and imaginative account of a young slave's bid for freedom from a brutal Georgian plantation in the American South. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast among the slaves and as she approaches womanhood is at greater risk of abuse from the owners. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to escape to the North

Colson Whitehead explains how the history of the Underground Railroad is taught in American schools, although it's a metaphor for the escape networks that ran in the antebellum South, as a child he understood it was real. so in the novel the idea assumes a physical form: a dilapidated boxcar pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world, where she must overcome obstacles as she makes her way to true freedom; reflecting, Colson says, the epic journeys from Homer and also Gulliver's Travels.

And as Colson Whitehead recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, the novel weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day

The Underground Railroad won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a place on Obama’s summer reading list, and was included in Oprah's book club.

To take part in future Bookclubs email bookclub@bbc.co.uk

Presenter : James Naughtie
Producer : Dymphna Flynn

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