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 WINTERS, BEN H. / Underground Airlines
 Posted: Jul 23 2016, 08:24 PM
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Author: Ben H. Winters
Title: Underground Airlines
Rating: 4/5
Genre/Tags: Fiction, Alternate History, Mystery

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.

A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all--though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost. Goodreads


I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book had I not found out about it while researching for Unabridged’s July Book Preview. Well, I might have heard of it, but I probably wouldn’t have picked it up right away. I don’t usually buy books right after they’re released. I’d rather wait and see what other people thought of it before reading it myself. However, I found an inexpensive copy of it and decided to take the risk and read it before reading reviews about it.

This is a complicated book. It is an alternate history where the American civil war did not happen. It is present day and four American states (The Hard Four) still have slavery (“nonviolent slavery”, albeit still slavery). The rest of the world, we find out, doesn’t take to that too well. America is no longer part of the United Nations. Cars are imported from Africa and Pakistan, rather than Asia. The rest of America does not take slave-made products from The Hard Four.

Our main character is a black man who works for the government finding escaped slaves in the north and returning them to the south. Yikes, right? But it gets complicated. As good books always do. He starts to realize that things aren’t… what they appear to be. People you’d expect to be good guys aren’t good guys. People you’d expect to be bad guys aren’t actually bad guys. But there are a lot of parallels between this alternate history and our own current landscape that are just… eerie.

I feel rather conflicted writing about this book as a white, privileged woman. How can I possibly relate at all to what the character is feeling? I have never been prejudiced against because of the color of my skin. Most people feel comfortable around me. I almost never have trouble getting interviews for jobs. I’d never be looked at twice for wandering my neighborhood at night. I just… I have a lot of feelings about this book. I feel that it has been released at a very appropriate time in history. I can’t help but see the reflection of our own current political landscape written within this book.

As far as the writing goes, it really sucked me in and kept me captivated the entire time. I had a hard time putting it down, actually. I had a couple of days to myself this weekend and BOOM the book was finished.

I’d definitely give this book a shot, if you’re thinking about picking it up. It’s a relatively quick read, and definitely puts a lot of things in perspective.
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