Flight to Canada is one of the best satirical novels written on the political history. Reed tackles a very serious issue of slavery in such a manner that it becomes comical and poetic. Reed explored the dark history of African Americans in such a way that is not depressing but yet insightful. The book is full of humour and irony. Reed novel begins with a serious and strong note regarding the gods and man as he writes that:
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“Is there no sympathy in nature? Are people lost because the gods have deserted when they said they never would? They promised they never would. Are they concealing themselves to spite the mean-minded, who are too unimaginative to recognize the new forms they’ve given themselves? Are they rebuking us for our stupidity? They are mean and demanding. They want to be fed” (Reed, 1979, p. 9).
This paragraph from the book reflects that the author feels deeply about the issues in the society and somewhat does hold the gods responsible for not doing anything. This may also suggest that whatever happens is a consequence of the “stupid” actions taken by humans. However, the story soon drifts away from this seriousness and evolves in to a different dimension. I found the shifts in time rather confusing as Reed switches from one event in the history to the present times but the pace was refreshing.
The story revolves around three slaves who escape to Canada to get away from their master, Arthur Swille, who then goes after one of the slaves, Raven Quickskills. Reed has covered many events in history from the Civil War to the Proclamation Act. The journey of Quickskills is very interesting and sad. When Raven escapes, he has a vision of freedom and is willing to risk his life to get it.
I found the book quite amusing, although, at places, I could not figure out the purpose behind the book. The author definitely does not like slavery and has made use of a sarcastic tone while expressing against it at several places.
However, his negative references towards Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher confused me whether he really is against slavery or just sees the whole agenda as a joke. Beecher’s work for slavery has always been appreciated, Ismael is the only one who has openly criticised her work or perhaps he values her cause but is mocking her way of writing (Withers, 2008).
For me, this book proved to be one of the best books I have read yet. It has taught me more about Civil War, Lincoln and the Grand ol’ South then our history lessons in school. We were always told salves escaped to Canada to live a happy life forever. However, Ismael has shed light on several of the untouched aspects of American history. He has told us there is more to their story that adds more tragedy and misery in their lives even after their journey as slaves has ended.
This book is definitely for those who appreciate literature. I suppose the die- heart fans of J.K Rowling and John Grisham might not find it very interesting, but for me it has done wonders. The characters were believable and alive. I loved Raven Quickskills character, the manner in which his journey was defined; I could almost feel his tears and laughter. After finishing the book, I have added Ismael Reed to my list of favourite writers. I strongly recommend this book to everybody who wants to have a taste of pure and original literature.
Reed, I. (1979). Flight to Canada. New York: Random House.
Withers, J. (2008, January 15). A Review of “Flight to Canada” by Ismael Reed. Web.