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Flight to Canada

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  1,027 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Ishmael Reed has created a sharp, wildly funny slave's-eye view of the Civil War. Three slaves infected with Dysaethesia Aethipica (a term coined in the nineteenth century for the disease that makes Negroes run away) escape from Virginia. Not satisfied with leaving slavery halfway, one of the trio has vowed to go the whole distance to Canada; his master, Arthur Swille, det ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published June 2nd 1998 by Scribner (first published 1976)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  1,027 ratings  ·  73 reviews

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I wouldn't have thought it possible to write a funny book about slavery, but Ishmael Reed does just that in Flight to Canada. This is a multilayered postmodern satire of slavery and the racism that pervades America, not just in the 19th century, but in the late 20th century as well.

Reed diagnoses the sickness of the South by associating southern plantation owners with King Arthur and Edgar Allan Poe. They are wannabe Arthurians who wallow in decadence: "Raised by mammies, the South is dandyish,
Jan 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: sorry or please
Recommended to Mariel by: Kristen
Something about this personalness despite having to live in the world with its fucked up agendas and confusion from all sides spoke to me. No one gets to steal anyone else's story. Are our ideals and ideas vulnerable to being enslaved on us? Dulled into stupidity? Or selling-out? What the hell does anyone owe anybody else, anyway? (I don't think they do, beyond trying not to hurt anyone.) The sickness is worked up... I could probably pick many examples from today's culture (like pregnant teens m ...more
MJ Nicholls
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: merkins, novels
Flight to Canada is probably Reed’s most coherently satisfying novel, despite reining in his comic exuberance, and imposing a linearity-of-sorts to the affair, only retaining a smidge of structural lunacy and unchained antics. A slave narrative set in the time of the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s assassination, the main storylines follow rich aesthete Arthur Swille and poet-slave Raven Quickskill, trying to flee to Canada. Swille is proslavery and even dresses his white servant as a ne ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: atonement
Flight To Canada is a curious satire, one ostensibly concerned with slavery, Lincoln and the American Civil War. It is a more probing examination of emancipation for a people regarded as property and considered a sixty percent equivalent to a normal (read:white) human.

Reading this is akin to a Kathy Acker literary dissection, but one ingested while singing along to Nina Simone's Backlash Blues. Reed tackles the avalanche of exploitation and commerce from the vantage of the mid-70s 9cue images o
Paul Dembina
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes it's cartoonish, but it does pack a punch and I found it entertaining
Sep 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, own, favorites
This book was pretty awesome, so I'm surprised to see that none of my friends have read it. I was going to write a review telling you all how great it is and that you should read it, but frankly I'm just too lazy to bother and apparently the only reason I come here anymore is to post strange unwanted rants about the futility of life on people's reviews (sorry about that Eric) and also to make stupid jokes that no one laughs at, whatever, I think they're funny even if you bastards don't, beside w ...more
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Perfect title in light of the electoral college voting decision, isn't it? The book...not so much. Or really, probably just isn't for me. Intellectually I recognize the cleverness of this satire on race politics. Stylistically though most 70s literature is like most 70s styles...just not at all aesthetically appealing to me. I tend to prefer a more conventional narrative and story structure. This story was somewhat all over the place and the present tense used for most of it made it read like a ...more
Daniel Polansky
Oh man, I loved this. L-O-V-E-D. I like, walked into lamp poles reading this. I tripped on the beach reading this. A brilliant, bizarre comic satire of race relations during the civil war and a hundred years after, taking place in a nonsensical wonderland where Gettysburg is overlapping with rock-and-roll music and our protagonist, Raven Quickskill's eponymous escape from slavery might take place on a jumbo jet. Like Nathanael West (peculiar that I just read him last week, as Reed's debt to West ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Flight to Canada is a bit hard to summarise. People go places and say things, but everything that happens is rather loosely connected. But a superbly structured plot is not the point of this book. This book is a satire, and a good one at that.

Ishmael Reed describes a mid-19th century America with all the fixtures and fittings of the 20th century, which creates a lovely jumble of things. It's not supposed to make sense and have some kind of internal order, I think, it's just a mix that pokes fun
Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
How to Subvert Colonization
(spoiler alert)
When an Imperial culture seeks to dominate a population outside their own without actually killing them off, three essential tools are to (as best as is possible) take away their language, their folklore and their spirituality. When slave-trading whites from the West sought insure subjugation of African slaves, they employed these tools with a vengeance. In his anachronistic satire of the Civil War, Flight to Canada, Ishmael Reed wrests these tools from
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english, men, fiction, america
'Flight to Canada' is a bit of a Hitchhiker's Guide to Slavery, really. The story about fugitive slave-poet Raven Quickskill, who manages to escape the Swille plantation and travel to Canada, is hardly more than a backdrop for parody and tongue-in-cheek vignettes about racism and discrimination. It's fun, though, especially considering how I've been reading mostly dead serious accounts of life under slavery the last few months.

Slave owner Arthur Swille is a show stealer, trying to reconstruct a
Mar 18, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Beside broadly symbolic characters, the book's chief feature is a sort of bleary historical simultaneity, the total merger of the 1860s and the then now of the 1970s. This setup yields a few comic moments and a very good sense of the endlessness of American history, but it didn't make for much of a story. A few excellent passages, however, offer some redemption.
michal k-c
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reed is the king! one of the few pomo writers that truly feels like he’s got something under the hood other than detachment and irony. Truly funny novel about slavery - shouldn’t be possible!
Nick Carnac
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
,,,,,humour dwells/harsh lament bringing Beat sensibilities to the look back at Slavery,,,,,Pynchon cites hin
Matt Ely
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Don't let its short page count trick you into thinking it lacks depth. In this quickly-shifting narrative, an alternate history of slavery and the Civil War is told, where it happens in the past and in the modern day, the realities of one time inseparable from the other. In the absurdity of its satire, Reed seeks to draw the reader out of the comfortable sense that slavery and genocide are historic events, stuck in history and free to be perused at one's leisure. Instead, it is presented as a wa ...more
Christopher Campbell
In an attempt to break down the "black aesthetic," Ishmael Reed presents a wildly entertaining, uproariously funny, and impossibly anachronistic hybrid tale in Flight to Canada. Featuring the slave-poet who escapes on a jet plane named Raven Quickskill, a bumbling Abraham Lincoln, the sado-masochist Master Swille, the pornographic model Stray Leechfield, and the conspiracy-theory-lover 40s, the ensemble cast provides a great deal of humor. Underlying the humor, however, is a biting satire of Ame ...more
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A postmodernist romp through the 150-or-so-years of the Civil War, in which anachronisms, disrupted tropes, and absurdities abound.
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredibly smart book that, despite being written so many years ago, accurately posits American racism during slavery into the scope of modernity. Reed rewrites history: targeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lincoln, and other celebrated abolitionist figures by creating a narrative that effectively places them in history, rather than idolizing them through celebrity.

Reed proves every page why he's smarter than me seemingly without trying to do so. He's well-read, using tropes from Brown's
Jan 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Allan MacDonell
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ishmael Reed’s Flight to Canada folded the technology of a more-modern era into the era when black people were bought, sold and put to work as property in the United States. An escaped slave in Reed’s purposefully conflated world might pick up a telephone and deliver a prank call to the master he has fled. This melding of timeframes creates an environment in which the realities of an enslaved class jump forward from the historical context and become one with current events. The effect must have ...more
May 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Reed is not for everyone but he is for me. In this kaleidoscopic history of America, we see a hundred years collapsed on itself and acted out by caricatures. Reed shreds to pieces what we think we know about slavery, the civil war, abolitionism, and freedom and no side goes unscathed. His writing leaps off the page. Talking about Reed, someone recently said to me, "He is fun to read but he has 'attitude.'" If you idolize Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe, this book might offend you and maybe tha ...more
Sep 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
You've never read a book like this, I guarantee you! If you are interested in stories about slaves and black people in North America, and aren't offended by satires on that theme, this book's perfect. You also mustn't be annoyed by anachronisms. Imagine Mikhail Bulgakov meets Ernest Gaines. Right?!

You might be wondering why I haven't rated this book higher. Well, I myself struggle with anachronisms that occur at the expense of character depth. I want all character study all the time. Sometimes,
Sean Forbes
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is so funny!!!! I have never laughed so hard in my life over the contents of a book before. Reed taps into the absurdity of the institution of American slavery. He wants his reader to understand that any society that condones racism and slavery is highly absurd and not at all civilized. The brutality of slavery, the Civil War and racism lies in the nation's absurdity and stupidity. I highly recommend this book!
Dec 16, 2016 marked it as to-read
* Understanding Oppression: African American Rights (Then and Now)
* 50 Books That Every African American Should Read

This slave's-eye view of the Civil War exposes America's racial foibles of the past and present with uninhibited humor and panache. Mixing history, fantasy, political reality, and comedy, Ishmael Reed spins the tale of three runaway slaves and the master determined to catch them. #fiction #history #slavery
Paul Tatum
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Odd. This novel was odd. It was a good kind of strange, the kind that makes you wonder and process what is being written. Reed certainly has a profound idea to share, he discusses slavery in a way that makes one wonder the many ways we enslave others and ourselves. It reminds us of the horrors that occurred but reminds us that things have not been fully repaired. We still suck. How do we deal with that. I am still processing what I read, but it was great. But more importantly, it was odd.
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reed's rage is a questioning one, and for each of Flight to Canada's 176 pages, he runs buck-naked through the locker room of literary history, high-fiving with William Wells Brown and Elymas Payson Rogers, popping Walt Whitman on the behind with his towel, and rarely, if ever, cutting Harriet Beecher Stowe a break. Hilarious, provocative, and anachronistic as hell. This must be Ishmael Reed.
Jun 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The 1860s collide with the 1960s in Reed's Flight to Canada. Slaves take jumbo jets to escape from the south and this po-mo piece of literature leaves you reeling. May be a little odd for those who think postmodernism is insane.
Adam Sidney
I enjoyed this but think I probably missed a lot of the meaning...lots of absurd and anachronistic symbolism. Pretty interesting take on Honest Abe and other civil war era figures, from what I can remember. Challenges the conventional view of Lincoln as a saintly humanitarian.
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Logan by: Scott Massey
This book is a scathing commentary on racism in the U.S. and not just during slavery, but as the book suggests, through imagery etc, right now in the present as well. The references to Poe throughout are great. Some parts were a tad bit explicit for my taste, but it fit the book.
Mar 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
A historiographic metafiction juxtaposing the mid-1800s (Abe Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Underground Railway) with the 1960s (Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau). ...more
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Ishmael Scott Reed is an American poet, essayist, and novelist. A prominent African-American literary figure, Reed is known for his satirical works challenging American political culture, and highlighting political and cultural oppression.

Reed has been described as one of the most controversial writers. While his work has often sought to represent neglected African and African-American perspective

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