Book review: Twelve Years A Slave

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TO Years A Slave042_CITY_E1

Twelve Years A Slave
by Solomon Northup.
(Penguin, R149)


DO YOURSELF a favour and read this book. Do not simply watch the movie and forget about it later – find it, buy it and read it as though you will be questioned about it in detail.

Solomon Northup was born a free man in New York in the 1800s. He was kidnapped in Washington in 1841 and enslaved for 12 years in Louisiana.

He was rescued in 1853 and the book is a factual, to-the-point narrative of Northup’s experiences and the injustice he suffered for more than a decade.

After his release, Northup brought legal action against those involved in the sale of his life, but they were never prosecuted successfully.

From the onset, Northup asserts his freedom, but through- out the book, it is clear that even the truth about a black man’s freedom is considered less important than the will of a white man during that time.

The slave traders are nothing more than scum, not worthy of the respect of those they treated so brutally.

One is reduced to tears when reading about Northup’s harrowing life as a slave, how he was beaten, how he was forced to beat other slaves, how he was reduced to nothing more than someone’s property (no better than a common animal), how he slept on a plank and owned nothing except a blanket, and how he was called a “nigger” even though he was as free as his “owner”.

The only thing wrong with this book is that there isn’t more of it.

I wish I knew what happened to Northup after he wrote this book. I would love to have known how he lived out the rest of his days. I am also curious to know whether he valued his freedom more after being someone else’s property for 12 years.

The only indication as to what happened to him is this sentence: “The details of his life thereafter are unknown, but he is believed to have died in Glen Falls, New York, around 1863.” Seriously? That is an invitation for someone to dig into the annals of history and find out what happened to him.

I would also have enjoyed knowing how his family dealt with his enslavement and the uncertainty of his whereabouts.

It must have been a terrible experience for his wife and three young children when he disappeared.

I wish I had discovered this book earlier. It will go on my shelf of classics and I foresee it will be reread many times in future.

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