book review

The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date: April 20, 2021

Publisher: Library of America

Pages: 240

Genre: Fiction

Trigger Warnings: racism, racist words, torture, violence

Rating: 4/5

This is a recently published piece of work from literary great Richard Wright who originally wrote this story back in the 1940’s. The Man Who Lived Underground is a brutal tale about hardworking and father-to-be, Fred Daniels. He is a black man who works for a rich lady and after leaving work one day is picked up by the police for questioning about the murdered couple next door. The police are barbaric in their desire to get Fred to confess which he eventually does but he manages to escape soon after. To find safety Fred begins living in the sewers under the streets of Chicago.

This book illuminates the harsh reality of what life was like for Black men back in the 40’s and disgustingly, is still true in many ways today. Wright really plays around with his storytelling and shows the reader different snippets of life from what he witness underneath. It is a scorching tale on police corruption and society, which as we are all well aware, hasn’t changed much in the 80 years since this story was written.

Wright is also brilliantly plays around with our perception of reality. Did Fred escape or was he let go? Is he really experiencing everything he is telling us down there or is it in his imagination? And the ending was so unexpected and had me on the edge of my seat. I wish we could have had more at the end but it’s also a novella so I understand that it can’t delve too deeply into everything.

Also, I would be remiss to not mention the magnificent essay that follows this story that Wright wrote about the influences he had when writing The Man Who Lived Underground. I enjoyed his writing during the story but the essay part really blew me away. It was incredibly engaging and I didn’t want it to end. There is no doubt that Wright was a phenomenal writer and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading some of his more famous work.


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