Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo
Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo.
New York: Dial Books, 1995. $75.00,
ISBN 9780803718043 / 0803718047.
Note: This powerful and evocative book of the passage of captives from Africa to the Americas is sure to be the basis of much thinking and discussion. Highly Recommended. Winner of the 1996 African Studies Association's Children's Book Award for Older Readers
This powerful and evocative book is sure to be the basis of much thinking and discussion. The preface by the artist is a moving account of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that went into what he describes in Paule Marshall's words: "the psychological and spiritual journey back in order to move forward". He felt compelled to tell, in the medium he knew best, the story of Africans torn from their home, their pain, their strength, and the joy that endured despite the suffering. John Henrik Clarke brings his considerable academic knowledge to the introduction. His words bear the stamp of that authority while they vividly convey the experience of the slaves in the middle passage, an experience that left as indelible a stamp on captain and crew as it did on the human cargo. Neither of these short texts can be read without a sense of anger and horror. It is the paintings themselves that will stay in readers' minds. Anyone who has been to Africa knows that color is its essence. These black, white and gray scenes have a dreamlike quality, evoking the nightmare of Africa's worst time. The picture story begins with relatively realistic scenes of raids on villages. As people are led away from their homes in chains the paintings become more complex. The white slavers are nearly ghostlike, their cruelty both manifestly real and symbolic of all evil. As the journey progresses, the symbolism in the paintings reaches new levels. A cross-section of the ship, with its cruelly cramped cargo is shown cradled in the arms of an African mother; the top view of the ship, showing in outline the crowded bodies chained down with only inches between them, is seen propelled forward, borne by a chained African man. The cramped, terrible conditions continue; people die, still chained to the barely living. Some rebel, many more die. This is a book that will challenge all readers. It must be read; it must be talked about. It won't be easy.
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||Grade: M H
Reviewed by: Gretchen Walsh, Boston University
Subject: Africa / Disapora / Slavery / CABA Winner