Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell 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—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s 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. And 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. (For my review, go to http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/09/review-of-underground-railroad-by.html.)
For the complete longlist released in September, go to http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/09/2016-national-book-award-for-fiction.html and for summaries of the fiction finalists, go to http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/10/national-book-award-fiction-finalists.html.
For all the winners, check out http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2016.html#.WC50qfkrLIV.