I recently finished the novel, “Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. It was my first foray into African American historical fiction since I had read “Beloved” years ago. Now, I love historical mysteries. It’s fascinating to follow a clever sleuth who solves a murder without the benefit of modern technology. But I’m one of those people who has deliberately avoided African American historical fiction. I always assumed such books would be about the misery of slavery. Whenever I read a book or see a move about slavery, I get emotionally overwrought. And then I end up in a funk for days. But I’m glad I stuck with “Underground Railroad” because it’s a must-read kind of book.
Whitehead mixed fantastical elements with historical facts. At first, this made me feel a little off balance. I had always considered slavery to be so serious that it always required a sober and historically accurate treatment. But Whitehead’s writing made me see things differently. He used fantasy to provide a literal interpretation of the Underground Railroad as he told his story. He didn’t go overboard with the fantasy. There was just enough of it to make it interesting but not so much that the novel wasn’t grounded in reality.
It’s quite probable that I’ve cheated myself out of a number of good books by avoiding historical fiction about black people. I really hope that’s true in the sense that it would be sad to find out there aren’t many black authors who write historical fiction. Whatever the case is, this should be a good research project for me.
Expand My Horizons
A friend told me that I should read “Kindred” because it’s a science fiction novel about slavery written by Octavia Butler. I am not into science fiction, but I’ll put the novel on my list because I understand that Octavia Butler’s work is brilliant.