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Middle Passage

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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  4,068 ratings  ·  328 reviews
It is 1830. Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave and irrepressible rogue, is desperate to escape unscrupulous bill collectors and an impending marriage to a priggish schoolteacher. He jumps aboard the first boat leaving New Orleans, the Republic, a slave ship en route to collect members of a legendary African tribe, the Allmuseri. Thus begins a daring voyage of horror ...more
Paperback, 209 pages
Published July 1st 1998 by Scribner (first published 1990)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  4,068 ratings  ·  328 reviews


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Peter
Charles Johnson is a highly prolific author, scholar, cartoonist and screenwriter. Middle Passage is perhaps his most celebrated work, having won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1990. In my exploration through the canon of great Black American writers, Mr. Johnson is perhaps the best I've encountered. That is no small praise when he's compared to giants like Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead and Junot Diaz. They all have enriched and enlightened ...more
William2
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exquisite novel that won the National Book Award three years before Barry Unsworth’s fine Booker Award-winning Sacred Hunger was published. In the same league as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Toni Morrison’s Beloved and William Faulkner’s Light in August. A vital American document. I must reread it soon.
Roy
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful, powerful, thought provoking, surprising read. The first two attributes are on account of Charles Johnson's mastery of the written word. His prose grips the reader from first sentence and doesn't let go for a second. It goes by so quickly that I found myself wishing it had been padded to last another 50 pages or more. Why was it surpising? Well, I expected it to focus primarily on the horrific middle passage in which people were enslaved and transported in barbaric fashion from ...more
Andrew Pisano
Dec 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I liked it quite a bit. I'm not sure what to do with the narrative voice, though. It's, at times, wildly anachronistic and, frankly, unrealistic. This is all the more strange because Johnson is writing into a literary legacy that has a very particular set of tropes--all of which, he easily elides in order to utilize a narrator who's likeable and street-wise sophisticated. Yet this is also a man who is an uneducated, recently freed slave in 1830--a character who has an acute knowledge of ...more
Dan
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Middle Passage is a masterpiece of fiction. Written by Charles R. Johnson, it won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1990.

Carefully constructed and beautifully written, Middle Passage has been criticized for its light-hearted approach to the heavy and dark subject matter of the slave trade. This is probably because it is an adventure book first and foremost. I think of it as one part Moby Dick, one part Treasure Island, one part fantastical horror novel, and one part memoir that is deeply
...more
Bobby Bermea
Middle Passage is a bizarre book. I wanted to like it much more than I did. It's strengths are pretty strong but it's weaknesses, for me, had much more of an impact. It's short, barely two hundred pages, and it's one of the few books I would say that I wanted to be much longer. At one point towards the end, Rutherford Calhoun, our narrator, can't tell his fiance all that had happened to him because it "would take a thousand more nights than Scheherazade needed to beguile King Shahryar." Well, ...more
Brandy
Jan 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Maybe I missed whatever the National Book Award people saw in this, but I thought this book was terrible.
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
dianne
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A northern, manumissioned, educated, black scoundrel who found his way to the French-becoming-overrun-by-Kaintucks mash up of worlds that was 1830 New Orleans, escapes his debts and worse, matrimony, by playing stupid (a skill mastered, and apparently necessary for survival, among educated free blacks when confronted by white idiots who needed to feel that their accidents of womb made them superior - often used in Benjamin January novels) and landing himself (unbeknownst to him) on a slaver. So, ...more
Glenda
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I had to read this for school, and I honestly wouldn't have read it all the way if it wasn't that I had to for class. Initially, I was put off by the narrator's time-inappropriate voice. Supposedly, we are reading the journal of a freed slave in 1830. However, he sounds like a scholarly modern man.
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
...more
Kafka
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, america
It seems to me that one of the best things about being a member of Goodreads is the process of writing about the book you just finished: expunging and cleansing yourself of all that built up terror and awe of the sheer craftsmanship when it comes to the written word. I finished Middle Passage around five minutes ago, and found it within myself to write something about it here, and by God, it's making me feel really good.

So, what's Middle Passage about? It's about a freed slave who finds himself
...more
Steven
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
This was the perfect foil for Alexie's The Toughest Indian in the World . Johnson's novel is every bit as full of political and cultural commentary, is in fact a devastating indictment of slave-trading, but those points of view rise naturally out of the narrative, appear simply as facts littered about the story, rather than the other way around. There's a reason Johnson's book won the National Book Award and Alexie's didn't: literary art. Comparing these two books in a lit class would be quite ...more
Evgenia
Jan 30, 2016 rated it liked it
It begins deceptively with cheeky humor from the mind of an ex-slave and street urchin making his way, dishonestly but not maliciously, in the world. But when the setting turns early on from New Orleans—deliciously realized as that “town devoted to an almost religious pursuit of Sin”—to the open sea, the mood shifts noticeably. I suppose any book about the Middle Passage has no business being light, and this one delivers on the horror. Our protagonist confronts slavery, mutiny, starvation, ...more
Karen
What a book. I'd never heard of it until I picked it up--the consequences of growing up in Canada, I guess. I'm so sorry it took me so long to find it--Johnson's style is wonderful, a delight to read, and his hero Rutherford Calhoun is a model of the picaresque. Strange to say that a story about a slave ship could be in any way humorous, but Johnson is a supreme talent and he makes it so. This is a slim book but the plot changes happen so fast that every page is packed. Nothing happens that ...more
Scott Cederberg
Sep 03, 2009 rated it did not like it
Freshman book of some kind at Stanford. I remember it being dreadful. I went to see Charles Johnson speak afterwards; one of the things he talked about was learning words by reading the dictionary. While this is something I myself do/might aspire to do, the book kind of illustrated the worst of that--the vocabulary was graduate school English student, but the depth of the story was young adult novel.
Phil Overeem
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a fictional Middle Passage travelogue/slave narrative complete with surreal comedy, an African culture-monster in the hold, an Ahabian ship captain, and much metaphorical food to chew on. Loved every page of it. The narrator is an incorrigible thief and coward who undergoes a transformation of character...or maybe doesn't.
John Pistelli
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Middle Passage begins with an audacious sentence, "Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women," which announces its audacious conceit: published just four years after Beloved's solemn Freudian-Faulknerian modernism arrogated slavery to the poetics of trauma and the incommunicable, Johnson's novel recasts the slave narrative in the style of the fictional forms that Europeans were writing at the time of slavery. Middle Passage is a picaresque, a ...more
Yair Ben-Zvi
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a perfect or a 'grand' novel by any stretch but I will say that, in many instances, there are seeds of greatness here that I can completely see bearing fruit in later works by this author. Charles Johnson's "Middle Passage" is a bold literary experiment in many ways; firstly, it attempts to wrest the slave narrative from the grip of austerity and arch seriousness and into something far more, well, I won't say 'fun' but I will borrow one of the words used frequently to describe the text: ...more
Miriam Jacobs
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book about halfway, not getting it, before I realized that Charles Johnson is writing not exactly fable - more like myth - in Middle Passage, as opposed to fictive truth. The speaker is a manumitted eighteen-year old New Orleans slave, writing an 1830 ship log account of a voyage - Greek in proportion, Melvillian in symbolic import - that is somehow empty in central characterization. This speaker, despite his youth and former social status, has the wit and prescience to mouth French ...more
Chris Demer
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a great adventure novel, but far more than that. A black freedman, Rutherford Calhoun is a ne'er do well who had educational opportunities, but preferred a life of petty theft, drinking, gambling and womanizing. He plans an escape from a possibly forced marriage (to a plain, prim New England school teacher he meets in New Orleans, where he has drifted.) and debts which he cannot pay. Unfortunately, his plan involves smuggling himself aboard a ship due to depart the following day.

The
...more
Topher
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
OK, so admittedly I thought that this was going to be a hyper-serious, quasi-historical, Important book about the slave trade. Man, I was wrong. Instead, the book was a comic romp. Rutherford Calhoun is a recently freedman from Illinois who arrives in New Orleans with a serious penchant for wild parties and wild women. When a series of missteps, or, to be more exact, his lifestyle lands him in hot water he must decide to marry the naive schoolteacher that has taken pity on him or, well, pay off ...more
Lobstergirl
Nov 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kanye West
Shelves: fiction, got-rid-of

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
Sultan
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book had been sitting in a box in my basement for years. Someone gave it to me, and because I never quite felt in the mood to sit down and read a book about the Middle Passage, I put it in a box and proceeded to move six times. Two weeks ago, I was down in the basement looking for an extension cord to whip my stepkid with, and I came across that box, and because I was feeling gloomy, I picked up this book. And what a damn treat! It was engaging as hell. I sat down, read the whole thing, and ...more
Quo
In a 2nd reading of Charles Johnson's Middle Passage, I found myself even more impressed by the author's imaginative story line, certainly not a typical rendering of a slave ship narrative but rather a kind of fable that seems to embrace every character within the novel, while being primarily about a man named Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave living in New Orleans in 1829. Alas, the author's research into the period seems exhaustive, with a full accounting of nautical detail, the method of ...more
Michael Compton
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Vivid, funny, horrifying, learned, thought-provoking, and even rather sweet in the end, this is what every book should be. It may sound disrespectful, or even crazy, to describe a book about the horrors of the Middle Passage as "entertaining," but this novel engages the reader on every level, not least of which through its display of Charles Johnson's mastery--and obvious love--of the language. I don't know how many times I stopped and re-read a passage just for the sheer joy of what he does ...more
Craig Pittman
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book a couple of days ago, but I have waited to review it until now because I couldn't figure out what to say about it. "Middle Passage" is a mishmash of styles and tropes, a mix of entertainment, erudition and enlightenment the likes of which I can't recall ever encountering before. I enjoyed it immensely and even snapped at someone for interrupting me when I was near the end. I wanted to see what happened. Yet the author's ultimate intent eludes me still.

The best part of the
...more
Patty
Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well, this is a confusing book to describe. In 1830s New Orleans, Rutherford Calhoun is a highly educated ex-slave and current thief and general scoundrel. Seeking to escape his debts and avoid marrying his girlfriend, he stows away on a ship, only to discover that it's a slave-ship. He's remarkably nonchalant about this, at least until they reach Africa and load on their captives. After that things take a turn for the worse.

Despite the topic, it's not at all a depressing or grim book; it's a
...more
Kathy Kattenburg
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The classic Quest novel, in this case about Rutherford Calhoun, a young man, freed from slavery by his dying master, who stows away on a ship which, it turns out, is a slaver bound for West Africa to pick up a load of human cargo. Calhoun starts out a petty thief and ne'er-do-well who sees the ship as a way to escape his creditors and a marriage he doesn't want (more because he wants to continue his carefree bachelor life than because he doesn't love the woman). But during the course of the ...more
Angela Tyler
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I just finished this amazing book, and all can say is that it is a good thing that I did NOT read it before I wrote Queen Mother. If I had, Middle Passage would have been all up in my head, messing with my story, disturbing my characters and whatnot!

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
...more
Cheryl Durham
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Charles Johnson did a phenomenal job with the Middle Passage. The main character, Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave from Illinois, thought that he knew what he was running from (debt collectors and a refusal to marry) but not what he was running to. He boarded the Republic, and there, he learned that the ship was leaving New Orleans bound for Africa (bringing back slaves). Rutherford came to realize that his previous life (pickpocketing, womanizing and the like was nothing compared to what ...more
Peter
Charles Johnson is a highly prolific author, scholar, cartoonist and screenwriter. Middle Passage is perhaps his most celebrated work, having won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1990. In my exploration through the canon of great Black American writers, Mr. Johnson is perhaps the best I've encountered. That is no small praise when he's compared to giants like Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead and Junot Diaz. They all have enriched and enlightened ...more
William2
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exquisite novel that won the National Book Award three years before Barry Unsworth’s fine Booker Award-winning Sacred Hunger was published. In the same league as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Toni Morrison’s Beloved and William Faulkner’s Light in August. A vital American document. I must reread it soon.
Andrew Pisano
Dec 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I liked it quite a bit. I'm not sure what to do with the narrative voice, though. It's, at times, wildly anachronistic and, frankly, unrealistic. This is all the more strange because Johnson is writing into a literary legacy that has a very particular set of tropes--all of which, he easily elides in order to utilize a narrator who's likeable and street-wise sophisticated. Yet this is also a man who is an uneducated, recently freed slave in 1830--a character who has an acute knowledge of ...more
Roy
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful, powerful, thought provoking, surprising read. The first two attributes are on account of Charles Johnson's mastery of the written word. His prose grips the reader from first sentence and doesn't let go for a second. It goes by so quickly that I found myself wishing it had been padded to last another 50 pages or more. Why was it surpising? Well, I expected it to focus primarily on the horrific middle passage in which people were enslaved and transported in barbaric fashion from ...more
Dan
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Middle Passage is a masterpiece of fiction. Written by Charles R. Johnson, it won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1990.

Carefully constructed and beautifully written, Middle Passage has been criticized for its light-hearted approach to the heavy and dark subject matter of the slave trade. This is probably because it is an adventure book first and foremost. I think of it as one part Moby Dick, one part Treasure Island, one part fantastical horror novel, and one part memoir that is deeply
...more
Bobby Bermea
Middle Passage is a bizarre book. I wanted to like it much more than I did. It's strengths are pretty strong but it's weaknesses, for me, had much more of an impact. It's short, barely two hundred pages, and it's one of the few books I would say that I wanted to be much longer. At one point towards the end, Rutherford Calhoun, our narrator, can't tell his fiance all that had happened to him because it "would take a thousand more nights than Scheherazade needed to beguile King Shahryar." Well, ...more
Brandy
Jan 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Maybe I missed whatever the National Book Award people saw in this, but I thought this book was terrible.
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
Yair Ben-Zvi
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a perfect or a 'grand' novel by any stretch but I will say that, in many instances, there are seeds of greatness here that I can completely see bearing fruit in later works by this author. Charles Johnson's "Middle Passage" is a bold literary experiment in many ways; firstly, it attempts to wrest the slave narrative from the grip of austerity and arch seriousness and into something far more, well, I won't say 'fun' but I will borrow one of the words used frequently to describe the text: ...more
Glenda
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I had to read this for school, and I honestly wouldn't have read it all the way if it wasn't that I had to for class. Initially, I was put off by the narrator's time-inappropriate voice. Supposedly, we are reading the journal of a freed slave in 1830. However, he sounds like a scholarly modern man.
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
...more
dianne
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
A northern, manumissioned, educated, black scoundrel who found his way to the French-becoming-overrun-by-Kaintucks mash up of worlds that was 1830 New Orleans, escapes his debts and worse, matrimony, by playing stupid (a skill mastered, and apparently necessary for survival, among educated free blacks when confronted by white idiots who needed to feel that their accidents of womb made them superior - often used in Benjamin January novels) and landing himself (unbeknownst to him) on a slaver. So, ...more
Kafka
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, america
It seems to me that one of the best things about being a member of Goodreads is the process of writing about the book you just finished: expunging and cleansing yourself of all that built up terror and awe of the sheer craftsmanship when it comes to the written word. I finished Middle Passage around five minutes ago, and found it within myself to write something about it here, and by God, it's making me feel really good.

So, what's Middle Passage about? It's about a freed slave who finds himself
...more
Steven
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
This was the perfect foil for Alexie's The Toughest Indian in the World . Johnson's novel is every bit as full of political and cultural commentary, is in fact a devastating indictment of slave-trading, but those points of view rise naturally out of the narrative, appear simply as facts littered about the story, rather than the other way around. There's a reason Johnson's book won the National Book Award and Alexie's didn't: literary art. Comparing these two books in a lit class would be quite ...more
Evgenia
Jan 30, 2016 rated it liked it
It begins deceptively with cheeky humor from the mind of an ex-slave and street urchin making his way, dishonestly but not maliciously, in the world. But when the setting turns early on from New Orleans—deliciously realized as that “town devoted to an almost religious pursuit of Sin”—to the open sea, the mood shifts noticeably. I suppose any book about the Middle Passage has no business being light, and this one delivers on the horror. Our protagonist confronts slavery, mutiny, starvation, ...more
Karen
What a book. I'd never heard of it until I picked it up--the consequences of growing up in Canada, I guess. I'm so sorry it took me so long to find it--Johnson's style is wonderful, a delight to read, and his hero Rutherford Calhoun is a model of the picaresque. Strange to say that a story about a slave ship could be in any way humorous, but Johnson is a supreme talent and he makes it so. This is a slim book but the plot changes happen so fast that every page is packed. Nothing happens that ...more
Scott Cederberg
Sep 03, 2009 rated it did not like it
Freshman book of some kind at Stanford. I remember it being dreadful. I went to see Charles Johnson speak afterwards; one of the things he talked about was learning words by reading the dictionary. While this is something I myself do/might aspire to do, the book kind of illustrated the worst of that--the vocabulary was graduate school English student, but the depth of the story was young adult novel.
Phil Overeem
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a fictional Middle Passage travelogue/slave narrative complete with surreal comedy, an African culture-monster in the hold, an Ahabian ship captain, and much metaphorical food to chew on. Loved every page of it. The narrator is an incorrigible thief and coward who undergoes a transformation of character...or maybe doesn't.
John Pistelli
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Middle Passage begins with an audacious sentence, "Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women," which announces its audacious conceit: published just four years after Beloved's solemn Freudian-Faulknerian modernism arrogated slavery to the poetics of trauma and the incommunicable, Johnson's novel recasts the slave narrative in the style of the fictional forms that Europeans were writing at the time of slavery. Middle Passage is a picaresque, a ...more
Topher
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
OK, so admittedly I thought that this was going to be a hyper-serious, quasi-historical, Important book about the slave trade. Man, I was wrong. Instead, the book was a comic romp. Rutherford Calhoun is a recently freedman from Illinois who arrives in New Orleans with a serious penchant for wild parties and wild women. When a series of missteps, or, to be more exact, his lifestyle lands him in hot water he must decide to marry the naive schoolteacher that has taken pity on him or, well, pay off ...more
Chris Demer
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a great adventure novel, but far more than that. A black freedman, Rutherford Calhoun is a ne'er do well who had educational opportunities, but preferred a life of petty theft, drinking, gambling and womanizing. He plans an escape from a possibly forced marriage (to a plain, prim New England school teacher he meets in New Orleans, where he has drifted.) and debts which he cannot pay. Unfortunately, his plan involves smuggling himself aboard a ship due to depart the following day.

The
...more
Miriam Jacobs
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book about halfway, not getting it, before I realized that Charles Johnson is writing not exactly fable - more like myth - in Middle Passage, as opposed to fictive truth. The speaker is a manumitted eighteen-year old New Orleans slave, writing an 1830 ship log account of a voyage - Greek in proportion, Melvillian in symbolic import - that is somehow empty in central characterization. This speaker, despite his youth and former social status, has the wit and prescience to mouth French ...more
Lobstergirl
Nov 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kanye West
Shelves: fiction, got-rid-of

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
Sultan
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book had been sitting in a box in my basement for years. Someone gave it to me, and because I never quite felt in the mood to sit down and read a book about the Middle Passage, I put it in a box and proceeded to move six times. Two weeks ago, I was down in the basement looking for an extension cord to whip my stepkid with, and I came across that box, and because I was feeling gloomy, I picked up this book. And what a damn treat! It was engaging as hell. I sat down, read the whole thing, and ...more
Nathan Marone
Everything that I can say about Middle Passage has already been said. But it bears repeating.

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
...more
Michael Compton
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Vivid, funny, horrifying, learned, thought-provoking, and even rather sweet in the end, this is what every book should be. It may sound disrespectful, or even crazy, to describe a book about the horrors of the Middle Passage as "entertaining," but this novel engages the reader on every level, not least of which through its display of Charles Johnson's mastery--and obvious love--of the language. I don't know how many times I stopped and re-read a passage just for the sheer joy of what he does ...more
Zezee
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“The whole Middle Passage, you might say, was one long hangover.”


Middle Passage was a random read. I was browsing the shelves at my local library when the title caught my eye. Curious, I added it to my pile and later checked it out. I didn’t expect a high seas adventure. I didn’t expect it to be engrossing, much less funny. I did not expect to like the protagonist’s voice so much that I’d want to read more stories from his perspective.

Middle Passage is basically composed of Rutherford Calhoun’s
...more
Quo
In a 2nd reading of Charles Johnson's Middle Passage, I found myself even more impressed by the author's imaginative story line, certainly not a typical rendering of a slave ship narrative but rather a kind of fable that seems to embrace every character within the novel, while being primarily about a man named Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave living in New Orleans in 1829. Alas, the author's research into the period seems exhaustive, with a full accounting of nautical detail, the method of ...more
Patty
Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well, this is a confusing book to describe. In 1830s New Orleans, Rutherford Calhoun is a highly educated ex-slave and current thief and general scoundrel. Seeking to escape his debts and avoid marrying his girlfriend, he stows away on a ship, only to discover that it's a slave-ship. He's remarkably nonchalant about this, at least until they reach Africa and load on their captives. After that things take a turn for the worse.

Despite the topic, it's not at all a depressing or grim book; it's a
...more
Craig Pittman
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book a couple of days ago, but I have waited to review it until now because I couldn't figure out what to say about it. "Middle Passage" is a mishmash of styles and tropes, a mix of entertainment, erudition and enlightenment the likes of which I can't recall ever encountering before. I enjoyed it immensely and even snapped at someone for interrupting me when I was near the end. I wanted to see what happened. Yet the author's ultimate intent eludes me still.

The best part of the
...more
Angela Tyler
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I just finished this amazing book, and all can say is that it is a good thing that I did NOT read it before I wrote Queen Mother. If I had, Middle Passage would have been all up in my head, messing with my story, disturbing my characters and whatnot!

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
...more
Kathy Kattenburg
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The classic Quest novel, in this case about Rutherford Calhoun, a young man, freed from slavery by his dying master, who stows away on a ship which, it turns out, is a slaver bound for West Africa to pick up a load of human cargo. Calhoun starts out a petty thief and ne'er-do-well who sees the ship as a way to escape his creditors and a marriage he doesn't want (more because he wants to continue his carefree bachelor life than because he doesn't love the woman). But during the course of the ...more
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Literary Award Wi...: Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, pages 101 to end 6 9 Jul 25, 2018 01:12AM  
Literary Award Wi...: Middle Passage by Charles R Johnson, pages 1 - 100 7 6 Jul 10, 2018 10:46AM  
Slave ship narratives 2 28 Dec 11, 2013 11:31PM  

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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
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“The Apocalypse would definitely put a crimp in my career plans.” 2 likes
“We worked in silence. One thing I liked about the cook was that he knew when to shut up even when he was mubblefubbled and dying to talk. Occasionally, I felt his eyes, like fishhooks, try to catch mine as we squeezed past one another in the narrow galley, but he kept his thoughts untongued. Personally, I was too pitchkettled to trust my own speech.” 1 likes
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