From the President to RWA’s Librarian of the Year, people are on board for Oprah’s latest pick, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (PRH/Doubleday; RH Audio; BOT). It debuts at #4 on the NYT Best Seller Hardback Fiction list, is the #6 best selling book on Amazon, and is #10 on the USA Today best- seller list.
Reviewers were caught off guard when the book, originally scheduled for publication in September, was published early due to the Oprah pick. A few newspapers managed to rush their reviews into print including The Washington Post and The New York Times. Since then there have been many more assessments, all of them glowing.
The book is featured on the cover of this week’s NYT Sunday Book Review. Author Juan Gabriel Vásquez calls it “striking and imaginative … carefully built and stunningly daring; it is also, both in expected and unexpected ways, dense, substantial and important.” Whitehead himself is interviewed by NYT BR editor Pamela Paul on the weekly podcast.
NPR‘s book reviewer goes so far as to say, “With this novel, Colson Whitehead proves that he belongs on any short list of America’s greatest authors — his talent and range are beyond impressive and impossible to ignore. The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece.”
Laura Miller of Slate wonders “How does an ironist write about slavery?” and makes some unexpected comparisons, “The Underground Railroad makes it clear that Whitehead’s omnivorous cultural appetite has devoured narratives of every variety and made them his own. This novel, like much of his work, has the flavor of [Ralph] Ellison’s skepticism—but it’s also redolent of the propulsive, quasi-allegorical quest plot of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Think of The Underground Railroad as the novel where the spirits of two great American storytellers meet in a third.”
USA Today gives it 3.5 out of four stars, saying that the novel is “masterful, urgent,” full of “immense vitality,” and “one of the finest novels written about our country’s still unabsolved original sin.” WSJ writes “on every page of The Underground Railroad is evidence of a mature writer in full control of his talent and ambition.” People calls it “Tense, graphic, uplifting and informed, this is a story to share and remember.”
As for the President and the librarian, Mr. Obama includes the book on his just released Summer Reading List while Robin Bradford, Collection Development Librarian for Timberland Regional Library and the 2016 RWA Librarian of the Year, prophetically said during a podcast from the romance book site, Smart Bitches/Trashy Books, recorded before Oprah made her pick, “everyone will be talking about it when it comes out, and you’ll hear so much about it that you’ll think, it can’t be that good, [but] it’s one of those life-changing books … I can’t shut up about that book.”