“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.”
So starts this classic American novel, winner of the 1990 National Book Award, which tells the tale of Rutherford Calhoun, a loveable rogue and newly-emancipated slave in 1830s New Orleans. In an attempt to escape his matrimonially-minded girlfriend, he stows aboard the Republic and finds himself on a voyage to traffic captives from a legendary African tribe, the Allmuseri.
What follows is part adventure novel, part slavery narrative, part fable – and a disastrous sea voyage of epic proportions. But what can you expect when you kidnap and enslave a real-life African god?
Middle Passage is brutal and gruesome, featuring cannibalism, rape, murder, and pedophilia alongside the misery of human trafficking. (As Captain Ebenezer Falcon says: ‘There’s not a civilized law that holds water once you’ve put to sea.’)
It’s almost too memorable. Some of these characters and images will never leave you - however much you want them to. Above all, it’s a dazzling, wild ride; a novel of big ideas about morality and responsibility and an inventive commentary on the creaking American republic itself.