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review 2016-05-01 01:10
The Underground Railroad: A Novel - Colson Whitehead

Escaping from slavery was a daunting proposition. The escaped slave would have to leave a plantation without alerting overseers or tattletales, brave the elements with little in the way of supplies, meet up with people to provide assistance without giving himself away, and finally find a way to travel to friendlier territories. The participants in the escape had to keep absolute secrecy, with both slaves and abolitionists risking death at any misstep. Even after making it to the safety of a free state, the former slave could be captured and returned to the plantation and the grim consequences of flight at any time, all sanctioned by law.


The “underground railroad” that made these escapes possible was a marvel of human ingenuity, bravery, and dedication to principle. It also required a tremendous leap of faith from the escapee. Often there was no way to know what became of those who escaped before. Those who left were driven by optimism or naiveté or both. With others, the leap was more like jumping from a burning building; not really a choice at all.


In The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead explores many facets of these complex interactions. The focus of the story is on Cora and her escape, but we also get glimpses from many other perspectives, from those who participated to those left behind, and even the views of a slave catcher. The brutal and often heartbreaking story is told with a straightforward lack of sentimentality that is more powerful and affecting for its spareness.


This seemingly candid approach disguises other layers. There is allegory and metaphor so deftly woven into the narrative that it is hard to tease out. And then of course there is the underground railroad itself. In Whitehead’s vision, it is a literal underground railroad, rendering the metaphor into reality. This is right somehow, since in a kind of converse logic, the underground railroad of history had a power in the very idea of it. The vision it represented was as important as its reality, making the leap into the unknown possible.


A copy of this book for review was provided by Random House/NetGalley. Expected publication September 13, 2016.

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review 2014-03-15 16:06
Synergy this week in my ears: South America and Mars
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown - Julia Scheeres

This week, I've been finishing the audiobook version of A Thousand Lives, Scheeres' account of the Jonestown massacre. I have also discovered Thirty Seconds to Mars. Tears and awe in the car--and I've been amazed at the eerie appropriateness of the lyrics to many songs on the LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS album. They sound as if they are describing Jim Jones:


I'm tired of the waiting,
For the end of all days.
The prophets are preaching,
That the gods are needing praise.
The headlights are coming,
Showing me the way.
The serpents are singing,
A song that's meant to say:

All we need is faith.
A maniac's new love song.
Destruction is his game.
I need a new direction,
Cause I have lost my way.
The maniac messiah,
Destruction is his game.
A beautiful liar,
Love for him is pain.
The temples are now burning,
Our faith caught up in flames.
I need a new direction,
Cause I have lost my way.

--"End of All Days"


I loved this book because it was about the people who lived and died at Jonestown, rather than Jim Jones himself. It humanized the whole event--and it celebrated Congressman Leo Ryan, the only US Senator to be assassinated while performing his duties. Imagine your congressman being told that you are concerned about relatives living in a foreign country, possibly being held against their will. Now imagine that senator flying to that country in response to personally check on those relatives' welfare.


You can't do it, can't you?

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review 2012-01-09 00:00
No Turning Back: The South American Expe... No Turning Back: The South American Expedition of a Dragon Slayer - Benjamin "Coach" Wade It's not often I give a book a 5-star rating, but this book deserved it on many levels.

First of all, the concept for this memoir is different than any other, making it a fresh, new experience for me as I tag along with the author on his journey by kayak to South America. I also loved the language and writing style from Wade, making this book incredibly picturesque for me, as if I was right there, kayaking along side him.

The book leaves out a lot of nonsense that other authors feel necessary to add to their memoirs, that being bad language and sexual situations. I was perfectly entertained by something much more deeper than auto-pilot rants and lust. The author has a relationship with nature that dominates this read, particularly the ocean, and by that, the ocean is the only other main character, even though other people make a brief appearance.

I was given a sample of Coach Wade's humility, often times laughing with him during a self-deprecating moment, or at his choice of words while experiencing something light. I shared the sense of accomplishment with the author at the end of every chapter, even though the journey hadn't been completed yet.

This project was too good for Coach Wade to keep to himself, and I am delighted that he invited me, the reader, to come along and enjoy this fantastic experience with him.
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review 2011-08-18 11:05
Paula: A Memoir (P.S.)
Paula - Isabel Allende Oh my this is sad and beuatiful.
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