Diversity Spotlight – 23 February 2017

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

 

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Book Blurb:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. 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 and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. 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. 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.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. 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.

This has been one of my favorite books so far this year. Colson Whitehead has a unique writing style that can come across as emotionally distant. This bothers some readers, but it didn’t bother me at all. You can find my review here.

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The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life

Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal

Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal

This supermarket

Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot

Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

The Education of Margot Sanchez was released this week! And slightly overshadowed by Victoria Schwab’s Conjuring of Light. I LOVE the Darker Shades of Magic series, and will be diving into the last book in the trilogy soon, but I don’t want Lilliam Rivera’s book to be overlooked!

I don’t read contemporary fiction very often, but this one definitely seems like it would be worth my time.

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

This just sounds like a really fun book. Cute, funny, and culturally diverse…what more can you ask for? I will definitely pick this up after it is published when I am in the mood for a light and entertaining read.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Libraries

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This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is Ten Books I Loved Less/More than I thought I would. I’m going a bit off on the side rails with a variation this week…Top Ten Libraries I Love More Than Anyone Else (Because libraries are my favorite thing in the WHOLE WIDE UNIVERSE!).

I have lived in a lot of places. And when I travel, I am also known to wander into a nearby local library. It may known to occasionally drive my husband batty. “Why do you want to spend hours in a library when you already have that at home?” he says. “Who wouldn’t?!” I reply.

As you see, I am completely serious when I say I love libraries more than anyone else! And below, you will find my Top Ten Favorite Libraries That I Have Ever Visited.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Libraries That I Have Visited

Rosenbach Museum and Library

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I wanted to live at this Museum/Library during our time residing in Philadelphia. The Rosenbach is located within two 19th century townhouses at DeLancey Place in center-city Philly, and houses almost 400,000 rare books, manuscripts, and other fine arts and objects. From 1968 – 2014, the Rosenbach was also the sole repository for Maurice Sendak’s picture book illustrations.

The collection at the Rosenbach is AMAZING. Bram Stoker’s notes and outlines for Dracula; dozens of personal letters written by George Washington; William Blake first editions and original drawings; a first edition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote….I could go on and on with the treasures contained within the Rosenbach!

Princeton Public Library

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For three years, we lived about 15 minutes away from Princeton, in North Brunswick, New Jersey. This was my absolute favorite public library in the area, having only opened a few years before we moved to NJ. I loved the open layout, with lots of natural sunlight, and an incredibly fun tile mosaic at the entrance.

Cotsen Children’s Library

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Princeton definitely knows how to do libraries. The Cotsen Children’s Library, located on the campus of Princeton University (and just down the street from the Princeton Public Library) is a magical wonderland for kids. M loved climbing into the tree book nook and curling up with me to read a good book or two…or ten. The Wishing Well was another fun reading spot.

Maison de la littérature

Located in Québec City, Canada, The Maison de la litterature promotes Québec literature and authors. Housed in the circa 1848 Wesley Temple, the interior is gorgeously modern.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

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Right next door to my undergrad alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, and so much more beautiful than the dated Hillman Library, I used to occasionally ditch Hillman and head to either the Cathedral of Learning or the Carnegie Library to study. Anyway, everyone knew that the Hillman was THE place for not getting ANYTHING done.

State Library of Queensland

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One of the newer buildings on this list, it’s hard to beat the State Library of Queensland, located adjacent to the Brisbane River, near South Bank, my favorite spot in Brisbane.

New York Public Library

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NYPL speaks for itself. A visit to NYC isn’t complete without stopping by the NYPL, at the very least, to say hi to the lions, or visit the infamous Rose Room.

Folger Shakespeare Library

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By Julie Ainsworth – Folger Shakespeare Library Digital

Everything Shakespeare! And randomly, considering it’s location in Washington, D.C., also home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works. This is the library that introduced me to the wonderful world of William Shakespeare.

Martin Library – York, PA

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This is the library where it all began. It’s nothing spectacular or special, but it’s where I fell in love with books. The Martin Library gave me my first library card, and my weekly trips to pick out new books as a child was one of the highlights of my week. This library will always hold a special place in my heart.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library – North County Regional Branch

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This library isn’t very pretty, but it holds a wealth of treasure inside. We visit the North County Regional library at least once a week, and I hope M has as many fond memories of her childhood library visits as I do of mine. The librarians know her by name – and her reading tastes. We can always count on them for a great recommendation. And lucky for us, our branch is getting a multi-million dollar interior makeover next year!

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

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“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

I have always found that spending time in the outdoors is an incredibly soothing activity, whether it involves a strenuous, miles-long hike, or just a lovely meander through a meadow.

Either way, I always come back refreshed and rejuvenated. The fresh air, the sunshine, it always gives me a mood boost.

The last few weeks have been personally exhilarating, but also emotionally draining. During times like these, I find myself craving two things: more reading time, and more outdoors time.

Thankfully, mother nature has obliged, and given us an incredibly mild winter here in North Carolina. I find myself spending as much time as possible sitting on our back deck with a book, observing our own small patch of wildlife – our backyard is filled with bird feeders, birdhouses, a stone bath or two…and we are visited every day by cardinals, sparrows, finches, rabbits, chipmunks, and rascally squirrels. Occasionally, a blue jay or red-tailed hawk grace us with their presence.

Yesterday, we went for a hike at King’s Mountain National Military Park, on the border between North and South Carolina. King’s Mountain and Crowder’s Mountain straddle the state border, and this is only our second time visiting the SC park – usually we opt for the beautiful views and trails at Crowder’s Mountain on our side of the border, in North Carolina.

Take a look at the photo above, and you may not be that impressed. The trees are bare, the ground is dry, and it still looks very much like a winterscape in the woods here. Yet. Yet. The sun was shining in a beautiful blue sky, the birds and frogs were loud and active, and the trail was the epitome of peace and serenity.

Sometimes, a person just needs to put down a book and go outside. Take a break from the chores, work committments, and daily life. Even better, make time in nature a part of daily life. I promise you won’t regret it.

Oh, and the title of this post? That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Read Watch Play #9

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Good morning! Today’s post will link up to The Sunday Salon, and the Sunday Post. Read, Watch, Play is a monthly round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what fun you have had recently!

What I’m Reading

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I have recently been reading more memoirs that I typically do, and this is the first one this year that I am truly enjoying. Although this was published back in 2009, I have found that NOW is exactly the right time for me to be reading The Happiness Project. 

I recently finished both The Mysterious Affair of Styles and The Secret Adversary, the first two books ever published by Agatha Christie. I don’t plan on doing a full review for either of them, and wanted to mention them here!

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first Hercule Poirot novel. While it was an enjoyable read, I had forgotten the problematic and subtle racism and anti-Semitism that sometimes pops up in Agatha Christie’s mysteries.

The Secret Adversary is a Tommy and Tuppence mystery. This my first time reading a book about these two fictional detectives, and I look forward to devouring the other Tommy & Tuppence books! It was a fun little tromp into a light espionage story, and very different from most of AC’s other mysteries.

What I’m Watching

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Lion. If you see this one, make sure to bring the box of tissues! Since I am currently going through my own personal reunion process as an adult adoptee, the emotional turmoil underlying Dev Patel’s character hit quite close to home. Dev Patel does an incredible job of bringing this true story to life on the big screen. I can’t wait to read the book.

What I’m Playing

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In our house, science experiments are so much fun they are considered play! In December, M received a 12-month gift subscription to Little Passports Science Expeditions subscription box. She has received the first two boxes so far, and they have both been fun, educational, and entertaining! Experiments included so far: forensic fingerprint analysis, DNA extraction from fruit, a volcano set, make your own snow, a magnet lab, electromagnets, and a reproduction of the northern lights! Additionally, each box comes with a new mystery to solve with characters Sam and Sofia. I highly recommend it for 8-10 year olds who have an interest in STEAM or STEM.

What are you up to on this lovely Sunday and longer President’s Day weekend?

Book Review – Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub

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Title: A Year of No Sugar: A Memoir

Author: Eve O. Schaub

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Genre: Non-fiction memoir, Food

It’s Dinnertime. Do You Know Where Your Sugar is Coming From?

Most likely everywhere. Sure, it’s in ice cream and cookies, but what scared Eve O. Schaub was the secret world of sugar–hidden in bacon, crackers, salad dressing, pasta sauce, chicken broth, and baby food.

With her eyes open by the work of obesity expert Dr. Robert Lustig and others, Eve challenged her husband and two school-age daughters to join her on a quest to eat no added sugar for an entire year.

Along the way, Eve uncovered the real costs of our sugar-heavy American diet–including diabetes, obesity, and increased incidences of health problems such as heart disease and cancer. The stories, tips, and recipes she shares throw fresh light on questionable nutritional advice we’ve been following for years and show that it is possible to eat at restaurants and go grocery shopping–with less and even no added sugar.

Year of No Sugar is what the conversation about “kicking the sugar addiction” looks like for a real American family–a roller coaster of unexpected discoveries and challenges.

My opinion about the Year of No Sugar fluctuated wildly while I was reading it, from hating it tremendously, to thinking it was mildly okay towards the end.

The basic premise of Schaub’s memoir is a sound one…sugar IS everywhere. I just came off of a month of following the Whole 30 plan, used by many, including myself, as a dietery reset to get back on track towards eating a whole foods, healthy diet. During the Whole 30 you cut out many things: grains, dairy, alcohol, corn, soy, legumes, and sugar. While I modified slighlty – I kept in brown rice and quinoa – the hardest aspect of Whole 30? Cutting sugar.

Because.It.Is.Everywhere. Practically every condiment contains sugar: pickles, ketchup, mayo, relish, etc. It’s in salad dressings, chicken and beef stock, sauces, deli meat, breads, bacon, sausages, pasta sauce, prepared soups, sushi, smoothies…it is literally everywhere.

After Schaub discovered this after watching a Youtube video by Dr. Robert Lustig, she decided to set off on living a year without sugar, including her whole family in the experiment. Now this is where I started to have major problems with the misleading title and concept of her book.

Because they didn’t live a Year of No Sugar. Hell, with all of the exceptions, I’m not even sure they lived a week with no sugar. Eve makes a distinction between fructose and dextrose. She cut out fructose, including fruit juice (preferring to eat fruit in its natural form). But, from the way her memoir is written, it sounded like most nights of the week, she still made a dessert. Her exceptions included:

  • The family had one dessert per month that contained sugar
  • Each family member could pick one exception per person, a sugary food that didn’t count and which they could have at any time throughout the year. Eve chose wine, her husband Diet Dr. Pepper, and her two girls jam.
  • The kids had a third exception: they had autonomy outside the home, when their parents were not present (i.e. birthday parties, school, etc), to make their own decision on whether or not to eat any sugary treats offered.

Having just come off of the Whole 30, the very best thing that I did to help cut sugar cravings was to follow the guideline of not allowing any substitutions that resembled dessert. No gluten-free angel food cake made with coconut “sugar” and almond flour. No banana “ice cream” or avocado chocolate pudding or raw brownie bites. The idea behind the Whole 30 reasoning is that indulging in sweets – even with no sugar added – is reinforcing the behaviors that you are trying to change. I was skeptical, but at the end of 30 days I can see with absolute certainty that my taste buds have completely changed as far as sugar is concerned.

Later in her memoir, Eve started baking with dextrose. All told, from the way the book read, it seemed like they ate more desserts during their Year of No Sugar than our family did before embarking on the Whole 30. She spends most of her time in her memoir describing the various ways she tried to sweeten her foods without breaking her resolution. Ultimately, the whole book feels wildly arbitrary and hyper-controlling all at the same time.

She also puts forward a dangerous idea: that cutting out sugar may be the magic cure-all for all of Western societies ailments. Life is not that simple. Meanwhile, the family had no problems indulging in other unhealthy foods during the Year of No Sugar.

The writing style is engaging in fun, but I can’t support the majority of the content. And when you get to the end, there is a lovely recipe section, but what recipes does she include? Desserts. Not only her “unsweetened” desserts (made with dextrose), but the recipes for her once-a-month sugar treats. I found it all highly ironic.

I successfully cut out all sugar for more than a month, and since that month ended, I have only had a sugary treat once: dark chocolate with almonds. It fundamentally changed the way my body tastes sweets, and I plan on continuing long-term with a drastically lower amount of added sugar in my diet. I will keep using the packaged foods I found that do not contain added sugar as a replacement for like items that do contain sugar, and save the sugar intake for a true, high-quality treat every once in a while.

For those looking to cut back on sugar in packaged products,  I recommend the following items:

  • Salad dressing,  Cindy’s Kitchen Barcelona Vinaigrette is a great pre-made option.
  • Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Chicken Soup for a gluten-free, sugar free prepared soup
  • Chicken stock: Imagine Organic Free-Range chicken stock
  • Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Chicken Burgers (these are particularly good in a lettuce bun with guacamole)
  • Rao’s Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce

I picked up Year of No Sugar purposely after finishing the Whole 30 to help me stay motivated to keep sugar out long-term. What I found was that this book didn’t help that goal in any way, but I did discover that I alreadym have the motivation I need to keep on this path. Yay for self-empowerment!

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Sunshine Blogger Award

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Thank you to Maxine @ The Rogue Storyteller for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! One of the best parts of blogging is the community of like-minded souls, and it is nice to know that I bring “sunshine” to someone’s day!

Rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions set by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and then write 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger award logo in a post/on your site.

1. What fictional universe would you like to live in if given the chance?

That is a tough one. It has to be a fictional universe that doesn’t involve a mass number of people getting killed off, so Game of Thrones is out. I think my choice will have to be fairly standard…the magical world of Harry Potter!! Post-Voldemort, of course.

2. Where are your top three travel destinations?

I will break this into two: places I have been and places I would like to visit. Top three travel destinations that I have already visited:

  • Kyoto, Japan
  • Madras/Chennai, India
  • South Island, New Zealand

Top three places I would like to visit someday:

  • Great Pyramids of Egypt
  • Ireland
  • Turkey

3. Describe your reading habits in as few words as possible.

Voracious.

4. What do you like most about your favorite book?

My favorite book of all-time is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. My favorite books are ones that have changed me. It’s not that I just remember this book with fondness, it fundamentally altered who I am the first time I read it. You know how you happen to come across a book at a certain time in your life, and it is exactly what you need, and in a way, changes everything? The Handmaid’s Tale is that book for me. It influenced me to further research some of the inspiration behind the storyline (her famous quote regarding the tale, “There’s nothing in the book that hasn’t already happened” really struck a chord). That research led to more research, and eventually a study abroad adventure, change in major, and a life-time focus on human rights, especially women’s rights.

5. If you could get a book related tattoo, what would it be? (stealing this from Katy)

It would probably be something like this, from Alice in Wonderland:

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6. What book or book series do you think could have been a major hit if it had just a little more oomf?

This one is really hard! Out of books I have read recently, I am going to go with The Blazing Star by Imani Josey. There were so many incredible components, this one came so close in my opinion to being an incredible book, but ultimately falling short.

7. Have you ever read a book in a language different to your native one?

Sadly, I am mono-lingual. I have read many books in translation, if that counts.

8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Yes, I am being cheeky. Never thought I would quote Mitch McConnell. #Resist #Persist

9.  What would you like to see more of in YA fiction?

More Diversity!

10. What kind of music/which artists do you like to listen to when you’re happy?

Sia, Beyonce, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Neko Case, Lady Gaga, U2, Outkast, Florence and the Machine, Pink, Cindi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley

11. If you were a book character, what genre would you most likely be found in? 

Fantasy!

I NOMINATE:

Everyone! If you haven’t been tagged for the Sunshine Blogger Award, and want to participate, consider yourself tagged. You ALL bring me sunshine!

My Questions:

  1. What book brings you joy?
  2. If you have a book that you re-read often, what is it?
  3. What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten? Where were you when you ate it?
  4. Where are you from, and what is a common stereotype about your hometown/state/country?
  5. What is you favorite childhood book?
  6. Who is your favorite author, and why?
  7. If a movie comes out that is based on a book, do you have to read the book before going to see the movie?
  8. What is your favorite quote?
  9. What are you most grateful for in your life right now?
  10. Do you write or underline in your books? Take notes?
  11. If you could meet three fictional characters, who would they  be?

Book Review – The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Historical fiction, Alternate history, #OwnVoices

Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, The Underground Railroad, is, I dare to say it, a masterpiece. Despite the detached tone that turns off a few readers, the author gets to the heart of the horrible truths surrounding American chattel slavery in a way that most historical works have not. In addition to Alex Haley’s Roots, which comes with its fair share of controversy, Underground Railroad is one of the most powerful novels about slavery that I have ever read.

In Underground Railroad, we begin with a fairly straightforward story on a slave plantation. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia; she is also a stray and outcast amongst her fellow people. When Caesar, a slave relatively new to the Randall plantation, convinces her to run with him, she eventually agrees, and they both make their escape.

It is here, on page 66, that the story takes a turn into the realm of alternative history. For the Underground Railroad is not the version we find in our history books, but a real train line, built by slaves, buried deep underground.

The stairwell was lined with stones and a sour smell emanated from below. It did not open into a cellar but continued down. Cora appreciated the labor that had gone into its construction. The steps were steep, but the stones aligned in even planes and provided an easy descent. Then they reached the tunnel, and appreciation became too mealy a word to contain what lay before her.

The stairs led onto a small platform. The black mouths of the gigantic tunnel opened at either end. It must have been twenty feet tall, walls lined with dark and light-colored stones in an alternating pattern. The sheer industry that had made such a project possible. Cora and Caesar noticed the rails. Two steel rails ran the visible length of the tunnel, pinned into the dirt by wooden crossties. The steel ran south and north presumably, springing from some inconceivable source and shooting toward a miraculous terminus. Someone had been thoughtful enough to arrange a small bench on the platform. Cora felt dizzy and sat down.

Caesar could scarcely speak. “How far does the tunnel extend?”

Lumbly shrugged. “Far enough for you.”

“It must have taken years.”

“More than you know. Solving the problem of ventilation, that took a bit of time.”

“Who built it?”

“Who builds anything in this country?”

Throughout the novel, Colson borrows from history to reveal the true heart of darkness: slavery and the ongoing systemic racism in America. As Cora moves through each state: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Colson begins to tell a broader story. South Carolina is completely reinvented – I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers – but it is definitely jarring, and brings together the pseudosciences of eugenics, forced sterilization, and the Tuskegee Syphilis Project. All is not as it appears, and what looks shiny and promising on the outside often hides a darker, menacing aspect within.

Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood. With the surgeries that Dr. Stevens described, Cora thought, the whites had begun stealing futures in earnest. Cut you open and rip them out, dripping. Because that’s what you do when you take away someone’s babies – steal their future. Torture them as much as you can when they are on this earth, then take away the hope that one day their people will have it better.

I definitely see why this novel won the National Book Award. Colson Whitehead not only shows the struggles African-Americans have experienced during chattel slavery and beyond; he also touches on the way that white folks, and not just antebellum Southerners, justified their mistaken belief in racial superiority.

Interspersed throughout the story are chapters featuring a few of the minor characters: Caesar, Ridgeway, Dr. Stevens, Ethel. Some peopel take issue with these chapters as unnecessary, but I really appreciated them, particularly the chapters about Ridgeway and Caesar.

Whitehead writes in a detached way, and I know that is a turn-off for some people. I really enjoyed his writing style, and definitely recommend you give it a chance! In my opinon, it deserves all the accolades it has received.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.