Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape.
Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey...Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Georgia functions like a typical slave state. There are large plantations that house many slaves. Cora was born here and has been on her own since her mother escaped when Cora was nine. All she has of her own is a very small plot of land where she grows some vegetables. After she violently defends her plot from an interloper, she is an outcast among the slaves.
When the master dies and the plantation is in the hands of his sadistic sons, an educated slave convinces Cora to escape with him. He tells her about the Underground Railroad. This is a literal railroad underground with stations under houses of abolitionists. There aren’t many stations now. Service is erratic at best and no trains may come at all. They run and catch the train.
Slavery is illegal here. Former slaves are educated and given places to live. They have jobs and the ability to live a peaceful and productive life. But there is a strange tension. There is a feeling of something sinister under the surface of this utopia.
African-Americans are banned here. Labor is done by immigrants from Europe. The penalty for an African-American being in the state or a white person helping a black person is death.
Tennessee is dismal and bleak. The slave catcher finds her here but she escapes with help from some other escapees.
In this free state, black people live happily on a prosperous farm but will they be allowed to keep their enclave?
This book addresses a lot in a short space.
The hierarchy of slaves
White people reluctant to help to free people
Black people helping to catch escaping slaves
What is an ideal society?
My only issue with this book is that there is a jarring change of story structure in Tennessee that took me completely out of the story. I had to work to get back into it. I’ve talked to other people who have read this and they agree that it was strange. That’s the only reason why I’m going with 4.5 stars instead of 5.
I loved the idea of making it a literal train and exploring each state as a different form of government. It lets him examine what might have been after emancipation if different ideas took hold.
What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history - collectively known as inks. Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an ink who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks). The main characters grapple with ever-changing definitions of power, home and community; relationships that expand and complicate their lives; personal magicks they don't fully understand; and perceptions of "otherness" based on ethnicity, language, class and inclusion. In this world, the protagonists' magicks serve and fail, as do all other systems - government, gang, religious organization - until only two things alone stand: love and memory.
Oh. My. God. Just go get this book and read it.
What is scary about this book is that the dystopian scenario is so possible. It starts with anyone whose family has recently immigrated to the United States being required to have a tattoo. Black tattoo for temporary workers, green for permanent residents, and blue for citizens. Get that? Blue for citizens. It doesn’t matter if your family has been here for a while. Brown skinned people are still subject to legal restrictions. Over time the restrictions get more severe. People won’t rent to Inks (people with the tattoos). Then there are towns they can’t live in and jobs they can’t have. Vigilantes catch them and dump them outside U.S. borders. Next come the rumors of Inks having contagious diseases so they have GPS chips put in them if they go to the hospital so they can be tracked. Far fetched? I don’t think so.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Saturday offered up a creative solution to the problem of illegal immigration: track immigrants the same way FedEx tracks packages…
…”We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in
and then when your time is up—whether it’s 3 months or 6 months or 9 months, 12 months, however long your visa is—then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me, it’s time to go,'” Christie said.
Ink tells the story of this world from the perspectives of several people.
Mari survived an attack on her village in Guatemala as an infant. Her American father brought her to the U.S. She has a blue tattoo.
Finn is a white American journalist who is covering the Ink story and gets involved in the resistance when he meets Mari.
Meche is a wealthy Cuban American chemist with a blue tattoo who is using her family money to support the resistance and her knowledge to develop instaskin, a covering for the tattoos.
Del is a white painter who becomes friends with some Inks on his day job. He is Finn’s brother-in-law and gets recruited to the resistance because he has a truck to smuggle people.
Abby is a white teenage hacker whose mother runs an inkatorium. She volunteers there for community service hours and knows enough about the procedures to be able to help Mari and Meche escape. People she meets during the escape draw her deeper into the resistance movement.
The story also embraces magical realism. People in Mari’s village are twinned with a spirit animal. Hers is a Jaguar who is able to fight the battle on a spiritual level. Del has earth magic and is able to enchant his land so no one living on it can be found which makes it an ideal refuge for Inks.
This book is haunting. I stayed up late to finish it and then dreams inspired by it all night. I almost never give out 5 star reviews. To get one the book has to be one that is going to stick in my mind and influence the way I think. This book earned the 5 stars.
At the end of the book Mari visits the village where she was born. She tries to find out more about her family who were killed there. She was sheltered by the village priest who was killed later in the raid. She goes to see a library at a nearby church. The priest there talks to her about the aftermath of the Ink program in the United States.
“You could have had it removed, ” he continues, but gently, the way I’ve heard Father Tom address the kids he’s catechizing. “My understanding is that most people welcomed the new administration’s removal program as a way of getting past the misguided policies the tattoo represented, and the bitter history it marked.”
“But that’s the point, Father,” I say, taking care to close the album without damaging the brittle pages. “I know inks weren’t the first to endure this sort of thing, nor likely the last. But years from now, when somebody points to my photo in a dusty album in a library like this one, I want him or her to be able to say ‘I don’t remember the face or the name, but here’s the story of the tattoo'”
“It won’t be enough,” he says sadly.
“No. But it’s a start.”
About Sabrina Vourvoulias
“I was born in Bangkok, Thailand — the daughter of a Mexican-Guatemalan artist and an American businessman. I grew up in Guatemala, and moved to the United States when I was 15. I studied filmmaking and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., which — it has to be said — suited me for none (and every one) of the occupations I’ve plied since. ” from her website
Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work. Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother's sudden death in an earthquake, finds himself strangely attracted to other people s lost things. But little does he realise that his most valuable possession is slipping away from him. Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values.
Mrs Featherby lost her front wall.
Delia has lost her sense of direction. Now anytime she wants to go somewhere she can’t get there.
Marcus is a pianist whose piano keys have disappeared.
Robert lost his job. He didn’t get fired. The building that his office was in disappeared and none of the neighbors remember it ever being there. None of his coworkers are in his contact list anymore.
Cassie’s girlfriend didn’t come on the flight from Brazil so she sat down to wait for her. Now she’s turning into a tree right at the arrivals gate in Heathrow Terminal Two.
Jake keeps finding lost things but he has a feeling that something he should remember is slipping away.
This was a great book. Losing the things that were most important to them, made all the characters reevaluate what they wanted out of life. Magical realism is perfect for this book. I loved the fact that no one was the least bit surprised that Cassie was turning into a tree. It was just one of those things that happens.
The stories of the people start to intertwine so they all end up helping each other break out of the routines that they were in before they lost things.
Aster is the only child of feudal warlord in Ethiopia. Her father values her because he spent a lot of money to make all the sacrifices to the gods needed to get her. Even when she starts being a bit odd like walking through walls and moving things with her mind, she is his pride and joy. He decides to keep her safe by locking her away from the community.
Gudu is a slave who is in charge of remembering stories and histories. He is put in charge of entertaining and guarding Aster. They fall in love which is absolutely not acceptable. Gudu is banished and starts a rebellion to try to get access to Aster again.
Ok, so that’s the plot and it is totally not the point. Reading this book is like listening to someone tell a story that gets more and more outrageous to try to make you laugh. It is also satirical about the tradition of violence in the area.
The Abettors are old men who help people have wars. They aren’t on any side. They help anyone who needs it. If the side they are helping is doing too well, they will also help the other side to make it more interesting.
“A quick study of human nature, the Abettor realized that men may endure without bread and water but not without war, and so he made it his calling to afford them a fair and refreshing combat…
…A few of the people he had so diligently served had conspired to put him out of service in the most hideous ways. In an ordinary year, he could expect to be stabbed to death twice. Once, an army of retreating archers shot him with ninety-five arrows. On three different occasions, he was carved into palm-sized pieces and his remains served to hawks and storks; he was also known to have been buried alive. But, each time, the old man resurfaced in some remote corner of the kingdom in one piece, invigorated by his ordeal, ready to influence the outcome of another raging war.” page 115
To balance the satire of the story, there is a historical postscript that discusses what Ethiopia was like at the time of the story and discusses the facts that the tale is based on.
This story is unlike anything else that I’ve ever read. It is a book I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t trying to read books by authors who have lived in the countries that the books are set in. This author was born in Ethiopia and now lives in Toronto.
Years ago, Eli Burke told his grand daughters, Marjorie and Holly, stories about the magical White Rebbe. As adults, Marjorie is studying instances of the Wandering Jew in literature and Holly has converted to Orthodox Judaism in order to marry Nathan, a man the rest of the family can’t stand. After their grandfather dies, four notebooks are found that show that his stories of The White Rebbe may not imaginary. Marjorie wants to get the journals for herself to trace her grandfather’s secret history and to see how it may tie in to her thesis. Nathan wants the journals because he believes that they may contain the key to mystical Jewish knowledge that may save the life of their sick son.
I found the stories written in the journals to be the most interesting part of this book. They trace Eli’s story from Nazi-occupied Lithuana to present day New York City. I couldn’t always follow the present day story very well, especially when it got into more of the magical aspects. Maybe if I was more familiar with Jewish folklore I would have followed it better.