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The back says: A powerful and riveting condemnation of American slavery, 12 Years a Slave is the harrowing true story of Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, enduring unimaginable degradation and abuse until his rescue twelve years later. Tricked by two men offering him a job as a musician in New York State in 1841, Solomon Northup was drugged and kidnapped. His life is jeopardy, he was forced to assume a new name and fake past.
[The rest contains spoilers, highlight if interested] Taken to Louisiana on a disease-ridden plague ship, he was initially sold to a cotton planter. In the twelve years that follow he is sold to many different owners who treat him with varying levels of savagery; forced labour, scant food and numerous beatings are his regular fare. Against all odds, Northup eventually succeeds in contacting a sympathetic party and manages to get word to his family. The ensuing rescue and legal cases are no less shocking and intriguing than the rest of the tale. A true-life testament to tremendous courage and tenacity in the face of unfathomable injustice, Northup's account also provides a rare insight into a murky past being meticulous first-hand recordings of slave life.
I say: Wow. This was such a powerful read that I am finding it hard to even write a proper review. I first heard of this novel when thefilm with the same title came out – well, almost the same title as the original novel was called Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New York, kidnaped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.
Quite the mouthful.
Without going into any details, this is a harrowing and heart-breaking story that brought tears to my eyes on more occasions than I dare count. It was very well-written, in a rather matter of fact way, and I believe it’s this detachment that unsettled me because it felt like Northup had to stick to the facts so that people would believe him. I may be wrong here, and he does comment on the things and people that happen to him and his reaction and feelings to them, but foremost it’s a retelling of events.
I am in awe of Northup for his insight into human nature, his intelligence and his ability to forgive and look beyond evil. In spite of all the anger I felt when reading – and after reading – there is a colossal lesson in here for me about perseverance, love and strength.
I have waited to see the film because I like reading the book first, but I am now dreading it, to be honest. I have such a hard time with all things related to slavery, but still force myself to do it because I want to know – and feel – even the darkest parts of human history.