- Paperback: 209 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; First edition (July 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684855887
- ISBN-13: 978-0684855882
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 80 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Middle Passage Paperback – July 1, 1998
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Long after we'd stopped believing in the great American novel, along comes a spellbinding adventure story that may be just that." (Chicago Tribune)
"A novel in the honorable tradition of Billy Budd and Moby Dick... heroic in proportion...fiction that hooks into the mind." (The New York Times Book Review)
"A rousing adventure yarn that resonates with and echoes the spirit of early sea stories...Johnson has fashioned a tale of travel and tragedy, yearning and history, and done so from a different, rarely explored viewpoint....Middle Passage is a story of slavery, often brilliant in its structure and riveting in the way it's told." (San Francisco Chronicle)
"Middle Passage is both unexpectedly funny and highly intellectual." (Washington Post)
"Highly readable...by turns mimicking historical romance, slave narrative, picaresque tale, parable, and sea yarn, indebted to Swift, Coleridge, Melville, and Conrad." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
"A vivid and compelling work." (Essence)
"A fascinating allegory of the way black and whites came together in this country...Johnson's remarkable novel challenges us." (USA Today)
"A savage parable of the black experience in America...blending confessional, ship's log, and adventure...in luxuriant, intoxicating prose." (Publishers Weekly)
"Middle Passage resonates...a spirited adventure tale daringly spun off the realm of myth." (Newsday)
About the Author
Charles Johnson is a novelist, essayist, literary scholar, philosopher, cartoonist, screenwriter, and professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle. A MacArthur fellow, his fiction includes Night Hawks, Dr. King’s Refrigerator, Dreamer, Faith and the Good Thing, and Middle Passage, for which he won the National Book Award. In 2002 he received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Seattle.
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Rutherford’s only chance of escape from Isadora and Zeringue was to become a cook aboard a ship, the Republic, bound for Guinea, to purchase African slaves. He hoped his absence would dissuade Isadora and his creditors forgetting he existed.
Aboard the Republic was a vile, heartless, shrewd dwarf, Captain Ebenezer Falcon, whose byword was Never Explain and Never Apologize. Falcon had no difficulty running the ship and keeping his motley crew of rapist, murderers and scalawags in line. They all had secrets, and Falcon accepted Rutherford as assistant cook to First Cook, Squibb.
In the costal trading post at Bangalang, Falcon bought the mysterious Allmuseri tribesmen, thought by slave masters to be the best quality. He also purchased their god, kept in the hold, a deity considered telepathic. The crew blamed the deity and Allmuseri for the monstrous storms and later disintegration of the ship’s contents. Mutiny, cannibalism, and an unfurling of diseases, resulted in deaths. Even Rutherford had a meltdown after coming face-to-face with the deity.
Although irresponsible, Rutherford is smart, articulate and engaging. He found seafaring disturbing and restricting. He missed the mischievousness and pleasure of his vice, stealing, and the very thought of stealing gave him a ‘tingle,’ “...as if I was slipping inside another’s soul.” He stole doubloons from Falcon and read his journal, discovering a man who sacrificed spiritual values for power and material gain, unlike his first mate, Northerner, Cringle, a man of integrity who believed in fairness and toward the end self-sacrificing.
Rutherford appears to have enormous internal conflict concerning anger with his brother, his former slaver, from whom he received a humanist education, and his father for allegedly deserting the family. Added to the conflict was being loyal to his shipmates, but the sorrow felt for the Allmuseri chained in the hold. He became friend to Allmuseri, Ngonyama, one who readily learned English. Rutherford realized the joy in the Allmuseri’s lives had diminished, as would their ancient traditions and beliefs. He also realized what he had once enjoyed: women, expensive suits, the latest stage plays, wins at gambling, and parties was nothing new under the sun. Rutherford’s trip to Africa would be far worse than marriage to Isadora.
Although I did not like the climax, the book is engrossing with vibrant characters, told in first person and, at times, in narrative. The similes, metaphors, and imageries are exceptional. Sometimes Rutherford is incoherent, a cue of his emotions. At this point, the writer’s work is deep and thought provoking. The book contains numerous words from sixteenth century Middle English and a battery of ship terminologies. As evidenced by his thoughts, Rutherford appeared to have studied under a learned and philosophical man. He considered Falcon a Faustian man. Rutherford used Greek words when describing characters as Icarian or Sisyphean, Parmenidean, and a smattering of Latin, such as causa sui. Make sure you have your dictionary handy. This novel is a good choice for book cIubs. I give the book 4.5 stars. The author served up a book with an unusual flavor.
Calhoun is a character a bit like Crocodile Dundee's black benefactor in New York. Largely innocent of serious evil, but possessing a definite sneakiness. He starts his story in New Orleans.
Isadora is a cultured, mannered black woman of ample size who plans to entrap Calhoun into marriage and change him.
Papa reminds me of Mr. Big from Bond's 'Live and Let Die', which has ties to New Orleans. And Papa has an enormous henchman named Santos, just like Mr. Big. There was a scene where he reminded me of Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld.
Calhoun finds himself being blackmailed into matrimony to Isadora by this mix of characters. Too much. He flees the scene by stowing away on a slaver, unbeknowst as such to him.
The tale that unfolds is dreadful. Neither crew nor slave is spared the atrocities of a gnomish Captain Bligh in the personage of Captain Falcon. And the vagaries of sailing the deeps in the 19th century.
But fear not. This has a storybook ending.
Depending on your own perspective, this can be downright maddening or humorous. How can one make light of the slave trade?
I believe the writing sometimes dragged and sometimes had overlong sentences. But overall it was an enjoyable read.