5 Amazing Readalikes for The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead to Read Now
Summary: 5 readalike suggestions for fans of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
Are you enjoying the television series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad? If you haven’t, definitely read the critically acclaimed, award-winning novel it’s based on! If you’ve already read The Underground Railroad, then try these readalike suggestions for additional great reads.
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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
In Colson Whitehead’s alternative history, the Underground Railroad isn’t a metaphor. Its engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.
Matters do not go as planned – Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens.
And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey – hers is an odyssey through time as well as space.
Readalikes for The Underground Railroad
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
My first suggestion is The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.
Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters.
But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
My next readalike suggestion is Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking, and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.
A gifted young Black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He’s got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.”
On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself. A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation and works to infiltrate the local cell of an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines.
Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he’s hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won’t reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw’s case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor’s salvation.
The Water Dancer by Ta’nehisi Coates
My third readalike suggestion is The Water Dancer by Ta’nehisi Coates. Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. He lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child. Hiram also has a mysterious power.
Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but a blue light lifts him up and lands him a mile away, saving him from the depths. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram’s private rebellion.
Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love. He determines to escape the only home he’s ever known.
So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he enlists in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, all Hiram wants is to return to the Walker Plantation to free the family he left behind–but to do so, he must first master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My next readalike suggestion is Yaa Gyasi’s novel, Homegoing. Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into two different tribal villages in 18th century Ghana. Effia will be married off to an English colonial. She’ll live in comfort in the sprawling, palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising half-caste children who will be sent abroad to be educated in England before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the Empire.
Her sister, Esi, will be imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle’s women’s dungeon. And then shipped off on a boat bound for America and sold into slavery.
Yaa Gyasi’s work stretches from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the north to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
My last readalike suggestion is Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. When his master’s eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him.
But Christopher Wilde, or “Titch,” is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning.
But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Titch abandons everything to save him. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life.
Colson Whitehead’s award-winning The Underground Railroad is a powerful story about racism and slavery told through an alternative history. If you’re enjoying the television adaptation, you might also like readalikes exploring those themes in unusual but still powerful ways.
If you’d like additional suggestions, visit your local Library branch. Or explore NoveList Plus, an electronic resource to help you find your next great read.