The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, review by Sarah Bagby

It is award season in the publishing world and long lists for the National Book Award, the Kirkus Prize, and the Booker are being released. I’m excited to see two of my recent favorites on the long list for the National Book Award fiction prize.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is often as tough to read as he says it was for him to write. Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad” is physically the same one he imagined when, as a child, he first heard of its existence. In this inventive, disturbing, and brilliant novel, the train travels on tracks through four states: North and South Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri. Cora, our heroine, escapes Georgia on the train and comes up in places she could not have imagined. One has a hanging square; one includes a commune inhabited by black people, only to be infiltrated by the pursuers of the escaped slaves. Don’t miss this book; Oprah hasn’t.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan opens with a car bombing in a Delhi marketplace in 1996. Two brothers and their friend are picking up a TV from the repair shop and a “small” bomb detonates, killing the brothers. What follows is a complicated narrative focusing on survivor guilt, the nature of non-radical activists, and a bomb maker. Mahajan’s skill is creating disparate characters all deserving of our empathy. Provocative and ambitious, I’m not the least bit surprised this “mid-list” novel made it onto the final list of 10 books eligible for the National Book Award.

Sarah Bagby's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. To listen to the review, click HERE.

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The Underground Railroad Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385542364
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Doubleday Books - August 2nd, 2016

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The Association of Small Bombs Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525429630
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Viking - March 22nd, 2016