"For more than two centuries our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king, and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I write this, it is Martin Luther King Day. And while I rarely I write about literature, "The Underground Railroad" is so compelling, the message so timely, and such good writing, it must be shared.
The book is a masterful work of historical fiction written by Pulitzer Prize finalist, Colson Whitehead, detailing cruelty, perseverance and decency in times of unspeakable wrong.
Whitehead spoke recently at the University of Tampa. It was my first introduction to Whitehead, whose other bestselling books include "The Noble Hustle", a poker memoir ,and "Zone One", a zombie novel, among other acccamlined works of fiction.
As serious as his topic, his lastest work "The Underground Railroad", Whitehead's talk was close to hysterically funny. Interspersed with personal antidotes he gave a accurate portrayal of a writer's angst before publishing, and added in a healthy dose of self depreciation.
Whitehead also took questions, including one that answered the question about his use of the "n" word, "Some people can say it and some can't." The character description is vivid, Whitehead joked, "Yes, Ridgeway (the slave catcher) demanded ten pages."
The book flows, the narrative lyrical. While Whitehead's fictional character, Cora, makes her way through the south, Whitehead introduces characters that personify the best and sometimes worse of humanity.
Times have changed. Today, Martin Luther King's quote at the top of the page reminds: no matter the challenges, change has been made and no opposition is too strong. "The Underground Railroad" is a must read.
"We've built something astounding here," he concluded. "But it is a precious thing, and it needs to be protected, nourished, or else it will wither, like a rose in a sudden frost." - Mingo, "The Underground Railroad" - Colson Whitehead