Charles Johnson, author of Dreamer, received the National Book Award for Middle Passage in 1990. Currently the Pollock Professor of English at the University of Washington, he lives in Seattle with his wife and their two children.
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
'"I'm not on anybody's side! I'm just trying to keep us alive! I don't know who's right or wrong on this ship anymore, and I don't much care! All I want is to go home."'
This is Rutherford Calhoun's story. Creditors are looking for him. He's a thief and the woman he's courting has a fantastic scheme prepared in order to marry him. Leaving the heat behind him, Rutherford Calhoun takes off from New Orleans aboard a ship named The ...more
The more I read, though, the more I understood that this was exactly the writer's intention, and that much of the message of the book lies in this paradoxical narrator. For one thing, I believe the au ...more
The ship ...more
Jamrach's Menagerie is a much better book based on similar themes and setting. What kills the book is the narrator. The book is first person,written by a freed slave, as journal entries in a ship's log. I realize that this is a stylistic choice the author has made, but in this case it is a spectacularly stupid one. What freed slave from Illinois, who describes himself as "used to cornfields ...more
Most good novels manage to do one or two things well. Great novels might do three or four things well. And then there are novels like Middle Passage. Compulsively readable yet beautiful and arcane in its use of language, here is a book that manages to create a character who drops cultural references as though he were the Quentin Tarantino of 1830. Middle Passage patterns itself on stories of great sea a ...more
This was not at all what I was expecting. I expected a realist novel. This is much more a picaresque. It's full of the gruesomeness you'd expect from a novel about a slave ship undergoing a mutiny, but it's also very over-the-top in terms of the richness of the language (the first person narrator is a freed slave, with a great deal of self-education and knowledge for a slave, but no freed slave regardless of how educated would narrate his experiences like Harold Bloom after a few drinks) and the ...more
The best part of the bo ...more
So, what's Middle Passage about? It's about a freed slave who finds himself ...more
Despite the topic, it's not at all a depressing or grim book; it's a l ...more
I wouldn't have been able to tell my story with its fortuitous meetings and plot twists without thinking that I was somehow copying this voyage. I wouldn't have been able to write about the dignity of enslaved Africans without thinking about the All ...more
It is an adventure.
It is a tragedy.
It is a commentary on slavery and other social issues.
It has shades of allegory.
In places the language is brilliant.
It is dark.
It is illuminating
At times it dips into philosophy.
At other times it feels like a comic book.
It is many different things, but don't make the mistake by the title that it is historical fiction. It is too anachronistic.
I imagine some readers will come away asking- what was C. Johnson ...more
Charles R. Johnson is an American scholar and author of novels, short stories, and essays. Johnson, an African-American, has directly addressed the issues of black life in America in novels such as Middle Passage and Dreamer. Johnson first came to prominence in the 1960s as a political cartoonist, at which time he was also involved in radical politics. In 1970, he published a collection of cartoon ...more