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Middle Passage
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Past Reads > Middle Passage by Charles R Johnson, pages 1 - 100

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George (georgejazz) | 506 comments Mod
Please comment here of Middle Passage by Charles R Johnson, pages 1 to 100.

message 2: by George (last edited Jul 05, 2018 02:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George (georgejazz) | 506 comments Mod
An unpleasant, gruesome, plot driven slave ship story set in 1830 that is overall a satisfying read! An ex slave who is a thief and in debt, is a stowaway on a ship sailing from New Orleans to the coast of Africa to obtain slaves and produce. The stowaway, Rutherford Calhoun tells the story.

Lots happen in this adventure story with issues including slavery, relationship and trustworthiness.

I thought that Rutherford, for an ex uneducated slave, has a very good vocabulary, which for some goodreads reviewers was a negative. This didn't matter to me as the story moved along quickly and came to a satisfactory conclusion.

Julia Jones | 11 comments I'm glad you commented on the vocabulary. I thought some of the words the author used seems very esoteric. I love encountering new vocabulary if it lends to a more powerful description or apt perspective, but I found some of the vocabulary in this book distracting overall.

However, I enjoyed the main character, and the description of New Orleans.

Irene | 562 comments I started this last night and am 60 pages into it. I am having a hard time believing in Rutherford as a character because his way of speaking feel inconsistent with his life and experience. When we hear him in dialogue, he sounds nothing like the voice narrating the tale. I have a hard time reading about violence. So far, I appreciate that we have not been given explicit scenes of brutality. But, even what I have read is hard for me. In part, it is because it seems as if the author is flippent about it.

George (georgejazz) | 506 comments Mod
There are a lot of interesting articles on Middle Passage by Johnson.

Book reviewer Rick Sincere in his Middle Passage review dated 20 January 2010 writes, "Mr. Johnson has quite consciously chosen to ignore the expectations (should we say prejudices?) of readers by drawing characters who are well-read, well-traveled, well-mannered and well-moneyed — despite their origins as slaves or children of slaves, or their descent into drunkenness and despair.

The writer is also a master of irony and measured understatement. Take this passage, in which Calhoun is seeking a tavern, to drown his sorrows before he marches unwillingly up the wedding aisle:

“The place was packed with seamen. All armed to the eyeballs with pistols and cutlasses, scowling and jabbering like pirates, squirting jets of brown tobacco juice everywhere except in the spittoons — a den of Chinese assassins, scowling Moors, English scoundrels, Yankee adventurers and evil-looking Arabs. Naturally, I felt pretty much at home.”

Later, upon being discovered on board the Republic, Calhoun is confronted with the ship’s first mate: “Of all the faces present his seemed the most sympathetic. In other words, his was the only one not pitted by smallpox, split by Saturday night knifescar, disfigured by Polynesian tattoos, or distorted by dropsy.”

Here is a link to the Sincere's book review:

In The New York Times, 10 July 2015, (25th anniversary since publication) Charles Johnson discusses Middle Passage. Here's a link to the article:

message 6: by George (last edited Jul 10, 2018 05:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George (georgejazz) | 506 comments Mod
Johnson states in the above article that he wanted "to create a narrator as complex, multi-sided and synthetic as the American society that produced him."

I had the same feelings after reading the first 100 pages. The violence and general descriptions of ship life are gruesome and not a pleasant reading experience. The last quarter of the novel stabilises (sic) and things calm done from the hectic 'how do I stay alive' drama of first three quarters of the book.

Reading the reviews certainly has made be appreciate just how much has been packed into this short novel.

Another point is that we are told Rutherford overwrites Falcon's log, however that doesn't explain the sentences in the first few pages of the book! For example, "I remember his tedious disquisitions on Neoplatonism, the evils of nominalism, the genius of Aquinas..." (page 3).

Irene | 562 comments Thanks for the links to those articles. For an author who studied 19th century shipping so extensively and who took 6 years to write this slim volume, I am surprised for the historical errors.

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