Sunday, March 10, 2013

Middle Passage, Charles Johnson

Middle PassageOf all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women. 

I really enjoyed Middle Passage a lot. It had a great writing style, and I think the author knew it too. Our narrator is Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave, who arrives in New Orleans in 1830. After he manages to collect a mountain of debt, and is going to be forced to marry a schoolteacher, he jumps aboard the first boat out of New Orleans, which happens to be a slave ship headed to collect members of a legendary tribe called the Allmuseri. He's "escaped" into a hell worse than the one he left behind.

Middle Passage is really compelling; as I sort of mentioned earlier, the writing is so compelling. Much like Louis de Bernieres, it's a bit verbose, but in a good way. Even though much of the events in the story are truly horrifying, somehow the book doesn't feel as dark as you might think it would be from the description. The atrocities that occur seem to be lightened, and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not. In some ways, if you don't want to be too emotionally affected it, it is, but if on the other hand, the author was trying to affect the reader, then he did not succeed. I was interested in Rutherford's adventures, but also somewhat detached. I never really felt like I was in the story. Which was good, because believe me, you would not want to experience what Rutherford had to go through.

Some of the characters are of course black-and-white good and evil. Rutherford is an example of that on the good side, "Papa" on the evil side, but many of the characters are in between. Isadora, the schoolteacher, for example, is willing to blackmail Rutherford into marrying her in the beginning, but she's obviously not all bad. And Rutherford did love her, he just didn't want to marry her just then. Another great example of a gray character is Captain Ebenezer Falcon. In some ways, he's utterly twisted, physically and mentally, but there are certain scenes when you can see the good side to him. The reader is still not sympathetic to him per se, but you certainly don't feel that he's "evil". You just feel rather sorry for him.

Middle Passage was an interesting novel, and I really enjoyed it. Both the writing and the characters were really great, and I would definitely recommend it.

Read Middle Passage:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set at sea
209 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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