Prepare to reimagine American history in Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” The menace of slavery is all too familiar to the protagonist, Cora, as she risks death and punishment by running away to the North. Instead of providing his readers with the traditional view of the Underground Railroad, Whitehead introduces us to an actual railroad that runs underneath the states.
Each state has its own perils to bare. Whitehead creates characters that open up new worlds of what it meant to be a conductor or engineer- like how their motivations might not be as pure as originally perceived. Whitehead also introduces his audience to how each individual found their way to the Railroad and why they are there as Cora makes her way up North. Each new experience forces Cora to reevaluate what slavery means, how it exists as this malignant cancer upon the Union and what it means to feel American when she isn’t even considered a citizen.
Although it is a work of fiction, Whitehead demonstrates that slavery has and will continue to always remain a part of American history. There is no way to erase the brutalities that slavery inflicted upon a large part of the American population, which still exists in forms of inequalities, today. How we ought to grapple with the future is the question the book poses to us. Whitehead leaves it to us to find the answer.
Whether you’re looking for a book that delves deep into rediscovering identity or an exciting story that details Cora’s escape from the slave-catcher Ridgeway, “Underground Railroad” fulfils both. It might not be the story you expected - nevertheless, the “Underground Railroad” is a story that you should read, especially since the United States is continuing to try to find its own identity.
“Small Great Things” is a must read. Not only is it relevant for our time, but the book also provides its readers with a new view of their own perspectives as well as those of others.
Written by my favorite author, Jodi Picoult, “Small Great Things,” like many of her other books, takes on controversial topics. Picoult is known for presenting her readers with the many grey areas that lie between what many often deem as only black and white. Thus, Picoult demonstrates that the human experience is a product of our environment and “Small Great Things” is no exception.
In this story, Picoult explores the many faces and levels of racism - from overt, in-your-face examples to the subtle, institutionalized forms. Picoult's tendency and ability to write from opposing perspectives has always amazed me - but this book of hers left me in awe. She focuses on two primary narratives: a white supremacist who is openly prejudice and a black nurse who has spent her life building a career and a family.
Ruth, the nurse who has established herself in a world with largely a white affluent construction, has dealt with institutionalized racism her entire life. For instance, although she is older and more experienced, people assume that she is an assistant. Similarly, while she was attending Yale, Ruth carried a mug with the university's label just to send the message to onlookers that she could be and was part of their world. Picoult does an incredible job of illustrating how privilege is a part of a system where those who are, are heedless and unaware of their status. In the case of Ruth, she experiences things that white people do not have to face on a daily basis. Personally, as a white reader, this story consistently pushed me to identify and to recognize my privilege. Chapter after chapter, I would set my book down and ponder what I could do differently to be a better citizen. It also pushed me to help break down my own stereotypes that have been a bi-product of the world in which I have grown up.
In a much more direct manner, Turk, the white-supremacist, also demonstrates that racism is often construed as an intense hatred. Honestly, these chapters left me in chills and in absolute disgust sometimes. But through these chapters, Picoult was also able to shape his perspective in a true and honest way. For me, it was very similar to the movie American History X, where overarching generalizations and hatred is rooted from single experiences and differences. However, I think it was vital for Picoult to show the many ways race plays into society - intentionally, systematically and historically. Many of us think that we are not racist because we do not act deliberately. Therefore, our definition of “racists” becomes people who are outwardly hateful. This was a very important lesson this book conveyed, for racism exists on a wide spectrum - ranging from hate groups to institutionalized racism and daily experiences.
“Small Great Things” got me thinking and hasn't stopped since. It has pushed me to reconsider how I perceive society and how I interact with it. It has made me ask myself how I can try to be a better advocate and it has also motivated me to speak up when I see or hear racial jokes, or inaccuracies.
It is a book that should be read, especially now. In a time where our political landscape is largely based on populist thoughts and fear of others and their differences, “Small Great Things” explores our shared experiences we have as humans. Picoult illustrates the compassion humans have and the ability people possess to not only recreate themselves, but to also do some small great things.