Cora and Caesar are slaves on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Like all of the slaves, she is treated horrifically, but even more so because she is also an outcast among her people. Things are only going to get worse for Cora as she is approaching womanhood and is drawing unwanted attention from her owner.
Caesar, recently arrived from Virginia, tells Cora about the Underground Railroad. She initially refuses Caesar's idea to escape, but then her situation becomes more dire, and the two decide to leave the plantation and head to the north.
The narrative follows Cora's journey—at each stop she is met with a different world. She is also hunted by Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, and must navigate her way to liberation. At times, this structure didn't work because the reader gets bumped around from place-to-place and between past and present.
I wanted more from the supporting cast of characters, Whitehead does them a disservice by not developing them to their full potential. Caesar is also underdeveloped, and at times, Cora. There is a definite disconnect—would this book have been better in the first-person? Whitehead certainly did his research, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe the research took over the plot? The idea of an underground railroad was genius, but this component/concept was not fully explored.
This book was hard for me to rate, and at times, to read. There was a lot of disturbing subject matter, and while this is a fictitious story, there were many Cora's and Caesars, and this story is important to tell. I don't doubt that this novel will be the topic of many Book Clubs.