26 March, 2014

#BookReview :: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup was born a free man in New York State. At the age of 33 he was kidnapped in Washington D.C. and placed in an underground slave pen. Northup was transported by ship to New Orleans where he was sold into slavery. He spent the next 12 years working as a carpenter, driver, and cotton picker. This narrative reveals how Northup survived the harsh conditions of slavery, including smallpox, lashings, and an attempted hanging. Solomon Northup was among a select few who were freed from slavery. His account describes the daily life of slaves in Louisiana, their diet and living conditions, the relationship between master and slave, and how slave catchers used to recapture runaways. Northup's first person account published in 1853, was a dramatic story in the national debate over slavery that took place in the nine years leading up to the start of the American Civil War. 

I am afraid that I am guilty this time around of watching the movie before reading the book.

Twelve Years a Slave is Solomon Northup’s story of how he was kidnapped, drugged, beaten and sold off as a slave. It is a detailed account of 12 years of his life that he spent as a slave. The brutalities that he had to endure, the psychological torture that it was and the stories of the people who touched his life in one way or the other. He not only narrates his own story, but through knowing him and his life we learn more about other slaves, slave catchers, the general conditions of a slave and also the relationship between the master and a slave.

I wish that this was a piece of fiction so that I could just say that it was brilliantly ‘plotted’ and skillfully narrated and move on.

But that is not the case… this isn’t just some fiction but the dark facts of humanity. When we hear about slaves, we pity them thinking that they had a hard and difficult life. But to hear the first hand account of that life breaks your heart so badly. It was so difficult to imagine that a person had to live a life like that and then go back to our own comfortable lives. His trials and tribulations over those years are bound to touch a person in the most deepest ways - to be beaten physically in an inhuman manner may still be bearable, but the psychological torture that it was and the effect it can have on a person is so immense.

Solomon Northup’s life will touch everyone who reads this book and maybe even influence the readers to treat others better. And while the film deserved the Oscars, it is not even close to the book’s emotional dynamite!


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