Benito Cereno
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Benito Cereno

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3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  2,928 ratings  ·  186 reviews
"What has cast such a shadow upon you?"
"The Negro."


With its intense mix of mystery, adventure, and a surprise ending, Benito Cereno at first seems merely a provocative example from the genre Herman Melville created with his early best-selling novels of the sea. However, most Melville scholars consider it his most sophisticated work, and many, such as novelist Ralph Ellison...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published December 19th 2006 by Bedford/St. Martin's (first published 1855)
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Community Reviews

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karen
melville! in a melville house edition!
crazy, right?

this is a nice taut little thrill-ride of a book. okay, it's got a lot of description of boat-architecture, so it isn't a complete thriller - melville does tend to go overboard (GET IT??) with the descriptions sometimes, but regardless, it is more emotionally engaging than, say, that book about the whale. and i haven't read a book more full of seamen since reading Torn.

to a modern reader, the situation is pretty apparent from the get-go, but th...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Whew. Gut-punch. I'm going to attempt to tread lightly here, as any real down-and-dirty analysis of this story would be a worse spoiler of the plot's resolution than the Barton Fink DVD menu screen (and if you haven't seen this so-awesome-there-are-no-words-movie and you decide to watch it on DVD, do yourself a favor and mute the sound, insert the disk, close your eyes, press play, and only then un-mute and enjoy. You will thank me later.)

So, yeah...foray into the realm of the audio book! I lis...more
Algernon

I'm still dancing around the big white whale, putting off a re-read of Moby Dick by approaching it at a tangent, tackling other, shorter books by Melville. Benito Cereno does a great job in showcasing the talent of the master, combining a sea-tale with a moving account of human souls pushed to the limits of endurance and beyond.

Using a similar tehnique to Bartleby, The Scrivener , the main character is revealed indirectly, through the eyes of a benevolent witness. In this case the narrator i...more
·Karen·
Everything was mute and calm; everything gray. The sea, though undulated into long roods of swells, seemed fixed, and was sleeked at the surface like waved lead that has cooled and set in the smelter's mould. The sky seemed a gray surtout. Flights of troubled gray fowl, kith and kin with flights of troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms. Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.

And come they...more
Teresa
This novella takes a bit of patience to get into, but once you do, you are greatly rewarded. There's suspense, there's ambiguity (ambiguity galore!). There's much to think about, I suspect, for quite a long time after you're finished.

The reader probably understands what has happened long before the American captain (we see most of the story through him) does, but there is plenty enough in the revelation that has you paging backwards and stopping yourself from paging forwards. Only once is the r...more
Christopher
Melville is a genius. This short Gothic novella begins ploddingly and quite dull but builds in tension and horror almost imperceptibly (unless you already know the story) to a sudden and all-encompassing tragic climax. Based on a true story, it was written and left by Melville as an exposition of facts seen from all sides and leaves all the uncomfortable questions in a bloody lump on your lap, "here, you answer them."

There was unfortunately one thing I couldn't get past, one bias that I brought...more
Anastasia
Fra me e Melville si prospettava un enigmatico terzo episodio: se Bartleby lo scrivano fu tra i più belli letti l'anno scorso (superato solo da Aspettando Godot), di Moby Dick conservo specialmente la gioiosa liberazione dopo un sonno lungo centinaia e centinaia di pagine. Uno dei momenti più commoventi della mia storia da lettrice. Giuro, Moby Dick nella mia testa è paragonabile al senso di rigetto che mi veniva da piccola a mangiare le odiosissime patate lesse, che ingurgitavo sperando di non...more
booklady
Fascinating and deeply unsettling nineteenth century tale about race, slavery, crime and deception at sea. Although Melville’s motives on these issues—if even he knew what they were—are not clear, that in itself is what makes the story so enduring and timeless. However, what earns five stars from me is Melville's skillful handling of his real objective which was to show the reader how his/her own prejudices and biases (especially concerning race and slavery) affect perceptions.

Benito Cereno is...more
Edward Rathke
This is a tricky book to rate. In some ways it seems explicitly racist and at other times seems the exact opposite. Also, the first half is a sort of mystery and the second half is sort of a meta-examination of the first.

It's a confounding text and I don't really know what to think of it. In regard to race: I've always read Melville as being more generous to minority groups than many and so I'm inclined to think this is more a tale of mutiny without any real regard to race. The africans are give...more
Bruce
In this novella, Melville creates an atmosphere of mystery and ominous foreboding, persisting and intensifying as Captain Delano tries to understand the enigma of an apparently ill-fated ship with its debilitated captain, Cereno, his handful of Spanish crew, and hoard of black slaves. Delano is by turns suspicious and credulous, uneasy and seemingly gulled, convinced of sinister and ulterior designs and then reassured by his own optimism. The intense strain this places on the reader is artful, h...more
Sitanta
I read my first Melville novella at the end of last year, Bartleby the Scrivener, and loved Melville’s use of antique language and his highly wrought sentence structures. However initially I found Benito Cereno tough going for the same reasons. It was only in retrospect I realised crafty old Melville is employing circumlocution as a means of heightening the sense of confusion in which the book abounds.

The book has to be read twice, once from the perspective of the unreliable narrator, the ‘good...more
Laura
A Massachusetts whaling ship is anchored off the island of Santa Maria when another ship, looking listless and forlorn, drifts toward the island. When the captain and a few men head over to investigate, they find Spanish sailors and black slaves desperate for water and supplies. The captain of this hapless lot, Benito Cereno, seems weak, aloof, and entirely unqualified to command a ship. What’s the deal?

Don’t read the back of the book or descriptions of the plot, as knowing anything about the e...more
Heidi'sbooks
Wowza. I don't even know what to say about Benito Cereno. This is my first Melville, believe it or not. I've never read his other works, and this is quite the introduction.

Melville House says, "Based on a real-life incident--the character names remain unchanged--Benito Cereno tells what happens when an American merchant ship comes upon a mysterious Spanish ship where the nearly all-black crew and their white captain are starving and yet hostile to offers of help. Melville's most focused politica...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
I've read both Moby Dick and Billy Budd, but of the Melville works I've read, it's this novella I find most impressive. There's none of the windy digressions in Moby Dick or the heavy-handed allegory of Billy Budd or The Confidence-man here. This is as close as I've found in Melville to taut, subtle writing. If I have any criticism it is that it comes dangerously close to the "idiot plot." (For this to work, one of the characters has to act like an idiot.) From here on end though, to explain wha...more
Mike Jensen
I’m probably not capable of receiving this book in the way that its first readers did. Race and racial sensitivity were not issues to be bothered with then, so the racial issues, which are pretty much all I see, would not have cluttered the story for them. The older Melville criticism I have read sees this as a story about good and evil, with (not to give too much away) one faction representing evil and the other innocence.

This is turned on its head today. Oh, the same side is evil, but in a way...more
No Books
The Yankee, the Spaniard and a shipload of negroes.

As I Went Out One Morning
Una mattina dell'agosto 1799 una nave statunitense, ancorata in una sperduta isola cilena per rifornirsi d'acqua, avvista un'altra nave, in pessime condizioni di manutenzione, che si rivela carica di schiavi neri quando il capitano yankee decide di salire a bordo in visita. Cpt. Delano incontra così cpt. Cereno, suo collega cileno, che gli racconta di tempeste, bonacce prolungate, epidemie. Ma il comportamento di Cereno...more
míol mór
I titoli in neretto sono altrettante canzoni (e un album) di Bob Dylan.

As I Went Out One Morning
Una mattina dell'agosto 1799 una nave statunitense, ancorata in una sperduta isola cilena per rifornirsi d'acqua, avvista un'altra nave, in pessime condizioni di manutenzione, che si rivela carica di schiavi neri quando il capitano yankee decide di salire a bordo in visita. Cpt. Delano incontra cos�� cpt. Cereno, suo collega cileno, che gli racconta di tempeste, bonacce prolungate, epidemie. Ma il c...more
Syahira Sharif
"Benito Cereno" were never meant to be read only once. However, it took me some multiple reads into this short novel to make sense of the plot as the book need to be absorbed more than its meant to be read. Based on a true story, "Benito Cereno" was narrated by a very gullible unreliable narrator about a mysterious Spanish slave trade ship and its strange occupants. Like most thing in history about that time, the story basically centered about imperialism, slavery, white man burden, prejudices e...more
Andrew
Unreadable. Probably good if you have the patience for it, which I do not. After reading a page three or four times without understanding anything, smoke starts coming out of my ears. I turn green, double in size, don a pair of tight ripped purple shorts and reduce texts of "classic literature" to public-domain wood pulp. Okay, I have to stop writing this review now, I'm getting mad just thinking about it.
Emily
Highly disturbing. Some of the images are incredibly vivid, but the unwritten ones, the ones that Melville leads the readers to imagine for themselves, are even worse. I loved it, after I finished it-in the beginning it's hard to get into, but after Melville drops the first few clues, it starts to get really interesting. There's a surprise ending that I won't spoil here, but if you pay attention it's fairly easy to guess. After you finish reading it, I would recommend reading it again, and pieci...more
J. Trott
So this is one of the first treatments of slavery by a white man in America that is willing to totally subvert the whole tradition. Melville is relentless in his exposure of the injustice of slavery, and the humanity in the emotion and intelligence, of the victims of slavery. It's only novella length, so check it. There were voices in that wilderness, crying out.
Franz
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Lieberman
Bottom Line: Amazing for its use of language and extended metaphors, BC is worth reading if you want to see one of America's great nineteenth century craftsmen at work.

It was not a fun read or an easy read, but it was highly interesting. Published four years after MOBY DICK, the book is a fictional retelling of a slave mutiny on a Spanish merchant ship. Melville's understanding of the sea and deep knowledge of western thought and literature are everywhere in evidence, and the subtlety and weight...more
Krizia Anna
This was a boring book. It was short but I feel that I was reading a 1,000-page book. Its a book that you have a slight notion of what will happen next and thus just want to reach the climax. But the climax happened to far down the book. This book made me so sleepy I almost did not want to finish it.
Ana Maria Rînceanu
As my fist ever Herman Melville read, I am convinced that the man can write. For a classic this of course is not surprising, but I needed to be sure before I embarked onto Moby Dick. What I liked about this was the relative brevity of the book, though it did drag on a bit at the end, and also the writer is good at suspense. I'm still conflicted about the obvious confused atitude that the writers and his contemporanies had about black people. The author describes them as sweet one moment and like...more
Laurie
Had to read this for class and loved it. I thought Melville was supposed to be hard to read - it was - but I really enjoyed it. This is definitely not an easy read. It's more like an English assignment, but if you wade through it, it's rewarding. I love books that keep me guessing.
Hayley
This novella kept me engaged from the first paragraph. Melville's shorter stories have really been easy to read with endings that have kept me guessing. Benito Cereno is well crafted, decided sad for almost all parties, and very eerie. It also has really sparked the idea of slave rebellion and who is really the "evil" in the story. This story spoke more to me about the collapse of organization and how people will do terrible things to each other when given the chance. But in Captain Delano, we a...more
Susan T
I resisted wanting to read this book, it was a book selected by my book group. I would never of selected this title. It was hard to get into because of the language. I would much rather read something much more straight forward.
After about 40 pages the language became easier for me to understand and the story was great. I'll actually will be recommending this book to people. This is the first book I've read by Melville. My regret is that I missed the book discussion and now have no one to talk a...more
Mike Wilson
Benito Cereno is the epitome of terrible stories in my mind.

It's obviously well-written, in a sense, but what a chore. I've been made to read it twice because of its vagueness and political significance, and I get it, but I couldn't imagine a slower, more soul-crushing story. I get that Melville could write, but could you imagine listening to him tell a story at a bar? This story? We'd be there 'til noon the next day listening to him listening to his own voice.

I understand that Benito Cereno is...more
Abby
This short novel is a difficult read, I'll admit to that right away. But if ever a story was worth the difficulty, this is it! The story is a rare find: mystery, suspense, and horror, but arranged in a thoughtful, meaningful work of art. At first the book drags - the first few pages are tedious with exasperatingly long and seemingly meaningless details, but once the reader begins to understand the real story - the hidden conflict beneath the treacherous mask of normality, the reading is no longe...more
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Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for...more
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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale Bartleby, the Scrivener Billy Budd, Sailor Billy Budd and Other Stories Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life

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“But the past is passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright son has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.

Because they have no memory . . . because they are not human.”
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“This slavery breeds ugly passions in man.” 6 likes
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