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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Middle Passage (audiobook) by Charles Richard Johnson

Read by Dion Graham.
7 hours, 4 minutes.

I have rarely heard a narrator's voice so well-suited to a character as is Dion Graham's voice is to Rutherford Calhoun. Middle Passage (winner of the 1990 National Book Award) is written in first person as a personal journal of a ne'er-do-well former slave from Illinois who lives in New Orleans in 1830. Calhoun is forced to go on the run. He stows away on a slave ship bound for West Africa. It is captained by a diminutive American explorer and adventurer with a strong personality and an insatiable desire for new experiences.The crew is discontented and on the edge of mutiny.

Along the way, Calhoun discovers that the slaves and the cargo in the hold are not normal, in fact they might be more accurately described as paranormal. I would say more but I want to avoid spoilers.

Charles Richard Johnson
In reality, this book is not a good piece of historical fiction - historical anachronisms abound. Rather, it is an exceptional piece of fiction full of good old-fashioned literary themes, adventure, personal growth and literary allusions, like other, more famous novels about the sea, including the obvious ones such as Moby Dick and Homer's Odyssey.

One of the larger themes is freedom and servitude. Most obviously there are the slaves, but Charles Johnson also explores the debts we owe one another, society in general, employer/employee, men and women, parent and child, god and man and the way our past binds us to our future. Looked at in all of these contexts, the reader may wonder if any of us are really free?

I highly recommend Middle Passage, especially the audio version, since it so perfectly narrated.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on October 23, 2008.

This book can be found on Amazon here: Middle Passage

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