November 7, 2014

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as unfortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. But I forbear.
-from Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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Slavery and the Holocaust are two portions of semi-modern history that are so egregious and so unbelievable that I can't help but want to read about them and learn about them. There's no way I can wrap my head around why anyone would want to treat another human being the way people were treated during these blemishes on human history, but I admire any books educating on the subject because by learning more about the horrors of humanity we can better prepare ourselves to eradicate future atrocities. I also admire the bravery of authors who write about their personal experiences and the counter of goodness and strength of the human spirit they bring. Solomon Northup is no exception and his story is one of so much unfair horror and yet so much bravery that I really want to encourage you to read it.

Solomon Northup was born a second generation African-American in America. More importantly, he was born free. Twelve Years a Slave is Northup's personal account and just based on the prose of the narrative alone it's obvious that he was an intelligent, educated man. Northup lived the American dream in New York where he was married with three children and worked very hard so that his family was never wanting. One day when looking for extra work, Northup was drugged and kidnapped and sold into slavery where he remained a slave for twelve years. His memoir is a graphic account of the horrors he faced, the friendships he made and the way he was able to find his way back to freedom.

What is most interesting about Northup's account of slavery is that he, born a freeman, had no experience as a slave before entering slavery. Many accounts of slavery are based on people who were born into slavery, but Northup's account makes it especially easy for people who never experienced slavery firsthand or even segregation to identify with. It also makes it so much more horrifying to imagine being free one day and a slave the next and emphasizes how much we are able to take our freedom for granted. The injustice of Northup's story is absolutely infuriating, but similarly terrifying.

Because of his lack of experience with slavery, Northup explains his story with much detail and background for readers who also have little experience with the details of slavery. I found this both good for informational purposes but also terrible because of how horrible slavery is in all aspects. Learning about the sale process of slaves and how horrible slave owners could be was such a sad and shameful depiction of humanity.

Fortunately, Northup did share some of the better stories about people who took care of each other and even slave owners who weren't as terrible. While none of these stories make up for any part of the horrors of slavery, they shed some much needed hope on humanity and the human spirit. Had it not been for the goodness in people, Northup may have never become free again.

Bottom Line: This is a must read for everybody. You should know your history and you should never allow itself to repeat in any similar shape or form. 5/5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. The first line of your review sums up my thoughts exactly. I too can't help but read about these massive, horrifying injustices. I haven't read this one yet, but I clearly should.


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