Underground Airlines (Paperback)
The setting is present day America with a twist: slavery is still practiced in four states in the south. Victor, who is black, works--for reasons we discover--for the U.S. Marshalls tracking down escaped slaves. He's extremely good at the job, even as the intricacies of the situation create dissonances in him. This is a thriller, with literary flavors, set atop social commentary with resonance and reference to Invisible Man, which I read directly after finishing this fine novel.— Matt
The bestselling book that asks the question: what would present-day America look like if the Civil War never happened?
A New York Times bestseller; a Goodreads Choice finalist; named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, Slate, Publishers Weekly, Hudson Bookseller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kirkus Reviews, AudioFile Magazine, and Amazon
A young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service in exchange for his freedom. 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.
As he 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 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.
Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe.
About the Author
"This is one of the most thoughtful and inventive books I've read. Part alternate history and part detective novel, Underground Airlines couldn't be more timely or thrilling. It's a page-turner with a big mission: to warn against placing our history on a dusty shelf. On every page is the spirit of Faulkner's quote-The past is never dead. It's not even past. Here, Winters takes America's legacy as a slaveholding nation all the way to its logical and terrifying conclusion."—Attica Locke, Edgar Award-nominated author of Bluebird, Bluebird
"Underground Airlines is a masterful work of art with a gripping mystery at its most basic level. It's also a complex allegory woven throughout with sparking rich dialogue and multiple shades of awareness. Passengers, fasten your seat belts. The ride may be turbulent, but that's what makes it great."—Jen Forbus, Christian Science Monitor
"A swift, smart, angry new novel . . . Its vibrant imagination never slackens. . . . As a feat of world-building, Underground Airlines is astonishing, immediately taking its place in the genre's very first rank."—Charles Finch, USA Today
"Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller. . . . The novel's closing section contains several breathtaking reversals, a genuinely disturbing revelation, and an exhilarating final course of action for Victor."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[Underground Airlines] is powerful, suspenseful, and devastating-hard to put down, even harder to forget."—Family Circle
"Underground Airlines is a masterwork of world-building...[the book] gives you an incredibly complex character to explore it with, ensuring that your attention is well-spent down to the last page." —- LitReactor
"Underground Airlines is bold, brilliant, and beautiful -- everything you could want from a novel, Ben Winters delivers ten-fold. He's a writer to watch, one of exceptional vision and imagination whose characters draw the reader in to the point that an alternate history seems not only plausible, but the only one that counts until the final page."—Michael Koryta, author of Those Who Wish Me Dead
"A rich noir in a terrifingly convincing alternate America. It's both beautiful and brutal. The Handmaid's Tale for Black Lives Matter."—Lauren Beukes, author of Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls
"It is a rare thing when a writer has a fresh new provocative idea - and then executes it beautifully. This is what Ben H. Winters has done in his novel Underground Airlines. Imagine an America in which slavery still exists. Now imagine a dramatic telling of the story."—James Patterson
"Brilliantly written, terrifyingly conceived, Underground Airlines had me from the first page to the last. Many writers might have been content to set a few characters loose in the middle of the kind of powerful premise - slavery in four states never ended -put to work here, but Winters gives us gripping plot, clear-eyed social commentary and chilling implications. This may be alternate history, but what it has to say about actual, enduring race and racism cuts awfully close to the 21st century American bone."—Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
"Smart, quick and tricky, Ben Winters knows how to pull off a high-concept thriller. Fans of The Man in the High Castle will love Underground Airlines."—Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen