Member Reviews

“The Man Who Lived Underground” is a previously-unpublished novel by famed author Richard Wright (author of Native Son). This short novel was originally rejected for publication seventy years ago and now presented posthumously.

It starts out as a typical story of racial injustice where an African-American man is picked up by the police and blamed for a double murder. Beaten into submission, he signs a confession. But, rather than focus on proving his innocence, Wright takes his novel in an entirely different direction which is what makes it so fascinating.

For this man escapes and hides in the sewers, tunneling into basements. In a split second, he leaves Civilization and exists apart from it. Obviously an allegory for so many things this living underground and living an invisible life. No one knows he’s down there and no one suspects he’s hiding there.

Told from only his point of view, it is a universal tale of how easily society’s bonds are broken and how quickly we can become completely disconnected. And it also becomes an existential story about the meaning of life and how easily it is to separate and leave an unfair world. Looking at things from the outside - in his hidden cave beneath the city, the lead character thinks about what matters and what has meaning. It is thus not the same novel you may have thought you were going to read, yet a case study of what it means to be alive. Written starkly, it is impressive what a skilled writer Wright is.

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