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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on June 6, 2004
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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on January 18, 2004
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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on January 21, 2002
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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on April 25, 2000
This is a terrific novel, crackling with ideas and disturbing images (sometimes disturbing because they're funny when we don't expect humor). In regard to the anachronisms: in addition to what everyone has written, I found an anti-affirmative action rant, an ex-slave referring to fears about having to pay a mortgage, and references to celebrity-worship. But -- HELLO! -- has anyone considered that these are intentional? Of course we expect a more literal realism, but I think it's part of Johnson's point that we can't just reconstruct the past as if we weren't experiencing the present. All those "anachronisms," then, are just little reminders of where Johnson stands in relation to his story and invitations to readers to draw connections with our own worlds.
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on July 17, 2000
This is a work of shear brilliance. As an African American I now understand why my brothers and sisters don't write me: They, for the most part, lost that ability during the voyage across the big water. As an engineer, I was so pleased with Johnson's scientific treatment of details of the story. Whoever said this work is "wordy" has no doubt never read a Russian novel. Good grief! The work is barely over 200 pages! If anything the work is too short. Any yet, how can I say that if I was brought to tears at its end? This is a work that should be required in every college curriculum. It reads with such fluidity.I hope to find some readers interested in doing a review of this book.
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on August 21, 1997
I have read every, and I do mean every book, novel, auto-biographical sketch ever put out by Charles Johnson. I am convinced that "Middle Passage" is by far his most compelling, his most outrageous, his most excellent book ever.This is a must read for all fans of his and a must gift to all those in your life who need a dose of meta-reality in a world gone madder then the one he weaves into the latter half of the book. Do yourself and the ones that you love a favor, buy this book. It was written for you, after all, you did find this review didn't you
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on August 16, 1997
This book is well written on many levels. My life experiences don't relate at all to the main character's, but I could identify with him nonetheless. It works well as an adventure story because the characters are real. Still, it provoked in me a wide range of emotions and thoughts
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on April 20, 1999
I loved it. It was assigned to my school's English 2 class. Opinions varied widely, but I thought it was a vivid and engrossing work. Perhaps it was a little graphic at times, but even that contributed to the impact of the scenes and characters.
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on February 5, 1999
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand a piece of (not much spoken about) African-American history. I have read it more than once and I wish that this was a book made into mandatory reading for schools. It is a must read.
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on May 11, 1997
Reads like a novel straight out of the bloody Carribian, Johnson's Effective prose captures synapses in the mind and shakes them right down to their roots. One hopes for a recovery after this tidal wave of mixed blessings
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