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5.0 out of 5 stars what a travesty...
Seeing some of these reviews confirms my notion about how the general public will praise crap like "The Da Vinci Code" or brain dead housewives will weep over the terrible "The Lovely Bones" or think pretentious, cliched narratives like "The Time Traveler's Wife" are worth exploring. This was the 1st CJ book I ever read, and from there I have read every one since. His...
Published on June 6 2004 by Crazy2Bhere

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but kinda silly
I selected this book partly because it's advertised as being very historically accurate. Sadly, it doesn't seem the case. In fact, it's so inaccurate as far as the thoughts, values and progression of events, that the only explanation I can come up with is that it's an attempt at "magic realism."
The story takes place in 1830, where a young black man, Rutherford...
Published on Dec 18 2003 by Thomas Breit


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5.0 out of 5 stars what a travesty..., June 6 2004
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
Seeing some of these reviews confirms my notion about how the general public will praise crap like "The Da Vinci Code" or brain dead housewives will weep over the terrible "The Lovely Bones" or think pretentious, cliched narratives like "The Time Traveler's Wife" are worth exploring. This was the 1st CJ book I ever read, and from there I have read every one since. His best book is Oxherding Tale, but this comes in as a close second. 1st of all, I must respond to the rather biased nagative reviews claiming "how would an ex-slave speak so intellegently about Kant, etc..." well, the point here is that the "I" being used in the book isn't necessarily Rutheford at that point in time, but perhaps years later, or even after his death. "The Lovely Bones" is an awful book that attempts having a narrator who is dull as s**t speak after she is murdered. The one reviewer commenting about how certain railroads didn't exist until after the Civil War is probably the closest hint yr gonna get to show that this story is being told after his death, or much, much later. It's been a while since I read this book, but the descriptions are poetic and rich, and it's just sad how yet again the cliche is confirmed: take a great book like Middle Passage, and the reviews will be middling good. But take yr average sappy, bathetic Oprah pick, and housewives will be rolling on the floor. If you like real literature, this is for you. But if what you want is crap, then you won't get it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Finding Humor in Tragedy, Jan. 18 2004
By 
Fitzgerald Fan (Troy, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
This book was mandatory for my African American Literature course and I am glad that it was. It is impossible for anyone to imagine today what it would have been like for Africans to be taken from the comfort of their homes to be slaves in America. The only thing we could compare it to is being abducted by aliens if you really think about it. They were overtaken by people who looked very different than they did and who spoke an unknown language. They were put into giant ships of the likes they had never seen and many times, they were branded and always chained below decks. Many thought they were being taken to a foreign land to be eaten and often times the slavers would put slaves in groups with different tribes so that they could not communicate or comfort eachother due to a language barrier. They knew nothing of the world around them as people do today. The concept is, in truth, almost impossible to imagine.
Johnson studied about Middle Passage for something like seventeen years before writing this book, not to mention another six years studying maritime science. To be sure, there are a lot of fantastical occurrences within the book but that is why it is called fiction. I believe he does a phenomenal job with the character of Rutherford Calhoun...he's a liar, gambler, womanizer, and thief but there is something about him that puts the reader on his side. You will find yourself rooting for him all the way through the book.
The novel itself is indeed very graphic in description and includes things such as cannibalism so, if you have a weak stomach, BEWARE. The best things about this novel are its extremely dark humor,its fast pace, and its irony. As an avid reader, there is nothing I appreciate more than someone who can take a horrific experience and make it simultaneously poignant and funny. Not only is this a way of putting a face on the early days of slavery but it is a highly entertaining piece of fiction. I would recommend it to anyone looking for adventure on the high seas!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but kinda silly, Dec 18 2003
By 
Thomas Breit (Shoreline, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
I selected this book partly because it's advertised as being very historically accurate. Sadly, it doesn't seem the case. In fact, it's so inaccurate as far as the thoughts, values and progression of events, that the only explanation I can come up with is that it's an attempt at "magic realism."
The story takes place in 1830, where a young black man, Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave turned petty thief, ends up hopping a ship in New Orleans and discovers he's on a slave ship. The whole story is told by this emancipated slave, written into the ship's log by him.
Rutherford is, of course, taught at home by his master before he's freed. But would even a well-taught rural boy think in terms of Kant and Hegel, neoplatonists and the Pseudodionysis? A modern graduate student, perhaps, might people his thoughts like this, but not an 1830's farmboy-turned-thief. A phrase like "post-Christian moonscape" (describing the Captain's cabin after it's been ransacked) sounds perfectly at home in a late-twentieth century fiction, but completely out of place here. He knows all about evolution, before Darwin published, and the "missing link" which is an idea that developed about a century later.
Towards the end of the book, he's out of sorts partly, he thinks, because he's passed through so many time zones. Time zones, however, didn't exist then, they were invented by the American railroads well after the Civil War. And even aside from that, would you notice the changing of time zones in a trip that takes months to cross the Atlantic ocean?
Rutherford is, of course, black. But his brother, also black, has freckles. And, after several months at sea, our hero has somehow grown a beard of old testament length.
The biggest problem, though, is a terribly anachronistic point of view regarding slavery. Rutherford is horrified by the idea of slavery, and the worst part of it all is that one of the powerful black men of New Orleans, is actually smuggling slaves. A black man would own another black man as a slave? Beyond inconceivable! Except, of course, that it happened regularly in the American south, and, in fact, black slaveowners were not known to be particularly gentle. The slaves were fed into the slave trade back in Africa by other blacks, who had no compunction about enslaving fellow Africans. In fact, the leader of the Africans in the Amistad (the real ship, not the Spielberg fantasy) eventually returned to Africa and became a well-to-do slave trader. To a modern eye, of course, the idea of a black man participating in slavery seems nightmarish, but in 1830 America, it was just the way things were.
Of course, the explanation on the back of the book is that he's gone mad, and perhaps all this bizarre inaccuracy and anachronism is an expression of that. Which, I suppose, is a convenient device, but not a very convincing one.
Oddly enough, all these anachronistic thoughts and values are expressed in what sounds, at least to me, fairly well-done period prose.
All that said, the story is fast moving, and entertaining, if you pass through the boilerplate philosophizing. It'd make a good HBO movie, I suppose. If you want a good historical novel, read "Cold Mountain" or anything by Margurite Yourcenaur. If you want magic realism, read Vargos Llosa or García Marquez.
Reading some of the other reviews, I see a suggestion that the whole book was a parody. While I don't think that's accurate, it does make some sense.
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1.0 out of 5 stars THIS won the National Book Award?, June 14 2002
By 
Kevin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
I read this book in a class, and although the teacher who assigned it usually has good judgement, he made a serious mistake in this case. This book is lacking in just about every respect. Except for the protagonist, the characters are mostly boring and one-sided. The plot is contrived in the extreme and relies far too much on improbable coincidences. It is also much too predictable, with an overly pat ending which wrecked any suspension of disbelief I might have retained. Some of the events just don't make sense; for example, the protagonist opens a ship's log at one point and within a short time knows the entire life story of the captain in a high degree of detail. The only really interesting plot element is abandoned without any kind of resolution.
There are also numerous errors in this book. It is laden with glaring anachronisms (which may be intentional, but serve no useful literary purpose) and factual contradictions, and the author is apparently ignorant of the definitions of words like "octave" (a unit of pitch, not volume!) and "iamb" (a type of metrical foot of which "Falcon" is definitely not an example). The way the story is told makes little sense. At first, I thought it was a journal, but realized that it referred to future entries. Eventually it came out that the narrator was retroactively completing a ship's log, but things still don't make sense--even if someone doing that used date-based entries, he would not split one conversation between two entries that were three days apart solely for dramatic effect.
I'll give credit where credit is due--the writing style was sometimes entertaining and the descriptions of the god were interesting. Aside from that, this book is a waste of your time and money. I have no idea why the National Book Foundation would give it any particular notice.
As a side note, the aforementioned English teacher (who will not, I think, be assigning this book again--I am not alone in my opinion) believes that this book is a parody. If it had been presented as one, I might evaluate it differently, but the cover, the blurb, and even the editorial quotes, as well as some of the more serious themes, all indicate that it is intended as a serious work, and I think we should evaluate it that way,
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1.0 out of 5 stars National Book Award?????, March 29 2002
By 
Maurice Williams "mauricewms" (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
It has taken me way too long to finish this novel and I've never been more thrilled to get to the end of a book! "Middle Passage" is the story of a wayward freed slave in 1830's New Orleans. Rutherford stows away, unknowingly, on a ship set for Africa in search of slaves and treasures. After purchasing a tribe of Africans and the God they worship, the ship sets sail for its return to America. The slaves orchestrate a mutiny and take control of the ship. The crew suffers severe injuries at the hands of the rebelling Africans. The ship suffers even worse damage from a storm. The captain kills himself, unable to face his American investors after losing control of his ship and its loot. There's much more killing, and maiming, and flesh eating, and vomiting and bleeding. Then, the weather battered ship sinks but Rutherford and the ship's cook are rescued by a passing boat. They return to New Orleans...
Rutherford tells the story via journal entries. The author stays true to the language of the period, an award winning feat for the writer but dreadfully laborious and dull for this reader. This is the second novel I've read by Charles Johnson and I've concluded that this author just doesn't do it for me. I found the novel required too much effort and didn't provide nearly enough payoff. Can't recommend this one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Holy baloney, people!, Feb. 15 2002
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
I found this book really intersting, i had to read it for a book report and my teacher happens to know charles johnson. I think that this book is well written, you can really get a feel for what Rutherford is going through, i mean, if that was my only chance and i were him, i would take it in half a heart beat. If you only pay attention to what the events are, and how accurate the dates are, then you miss the whole plot and the beautiful writing that Charles uses. I can understand using and shifting actual events slightly to fit the story, to make it better, as he did. Who cares if Charles Darwin hadn't thought up the 'missing link' yet? or if a slave has been educated? By a minister who feels guilty about owing slaves? or if dime novels hadn't been invented yet? or the hegelian theory or philosify or what not wasn't well known in the 1830s? that shouldn't stop you from enjoying a good book! i would definatly recomend this book, the parallels between this man's life and Odicious (Spelling?) from Homer's Odyssey. It made a surpising but excellent ending. now, i will stop raving to let you read this book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Middle Passage as literature, Jan. 21 2002
By 
Reading this text as a part of the African-American literary tradition rather than as an independent work may have given me a different perspective, but I found this to be an intensely felt and intricately structured look, not only at historic slave trafficking, but also at the current and more recent African-American experience. This text is not entirely historically accurate, but that appears to me to be a literary device rather than a failing on Johnson's part. And some of the things that other reviewers found objectionable have an interesting and complex history throughout the African-American literary tradition. An example of this is the inclusion of references to philosophers and classical Greek and Roman culture. Establishing credibilty as a writer, not in the way that white authors do, but in the sense of establishing that one is intelligent and even human enough to write, is something that black authors like Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, and countless others went to great pains to do. Wheatley, for example, was interrogated at length by white scholars to establish that she could have authored her works and earn an authenticating letter. It is interesting to me that so many people feel that Johnson failed because he challenged some dearly held literary conventions (not rules). Since when has creative been a liability in fiction writing?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Middle Passage, Jan. 13 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
Middle Passage is an excellent choice for a novel if you truly want to get lost in the story. It is written by Charles Johnson, and it takes place in the 1830's. It is about a recently freed slave named Rutherford Calhoun, and his problems in life, and in his home of New Orleans. He needs to get away from a woman, and his debt collectors, so he decides to hop on a ship that will be away for a quarter of a year. Little does he know that getting on that ship would turn out to give him more trouble than he had back home, for it is a slave clipper headed to Africa to pick up slaves. Now, read the book to find out what happens!
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3.0 out of 5 stars it was good but had some downfalls, Oct. 24 2001
By 
opmax69 (rochester, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
Personally i thought the book was an excellent portrayal of a 1830's slave ship, the detail, and graphic scenes MADE the book. however there were some downfalls, some parts were so long and dragged on, it was hard to follow at some points. Also the ending was a little out-there.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I would definately read more by this author!, April 22 2001
By 
Megan (Pennsylvania, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Middle Passage (Paperback)
If you are at all interested in pre-Civil War slavery and the transport of those slaves to the United States, this is a great book to read. The book is very very detailed and graphic and will definately give you a glimpse into the horrific lives of the crew and slaves on the slave ships. If this book seems interesting to you, be prepared to put a lot of time and thought into it to truly understand it and get it's message. If you have any questions feel free to email me.
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Middle Passage
Middle Passage by Charles R. Johnson (Library Binding - July 1998)
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