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on 19 January 2014
The story of Soloman Northup is both horrifying and heartbreaking and all the more devastating when you know that it is true. I have seen the film and although it is excellent, I feel that the book explains in more detail exactly what happened. There are parts in the film where I would have wondered why situations developed as they did and the book fills in those gaps. The language in the book is evocative of the time in which it was written and for me was all the more powerful because of the understated tone.
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"12 Years a Slave" is one of those books that was important and popular in its day but unexplainably over the years it fell from view and into obscurity. In every sense this book by Solomon Northup is the non fiction equivalent of Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic anti slavery tome "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Indeed in many respects it is a better read. Yet whereas the reputation of the latter has played a key role particularly book in the historiography of the origins of the American Civil War, Northup's book only re-emerged in the 1960s after being rediscovered by two Louisiana historians. The books fame will receive a well deserved boost with the forthcoming release of Steve Rodney McQueen's heavily British driven film version. It is already an Oscar contender in the US and is clocking a remarkable 97% rating on the film critics web site "Rotten Tomatoes". There is some inevitable controversy over the films interpretation of the book but that is for another review. Whatever the case the central performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor as "Northup" and Lupita Nyong'o as "Patsey" are said to verge on acting master classes with potential award glories to follow.

First published in 1853 the base line for the book charts the story of Solomon Northup. He was born in Minerva, New York in July 1808, to a liberated slave and his wife. Northup's life as a a free man and brilliant musician takes up the first part of this very powerful short book. In 1841 an encounter he had outside Washington DC with two men "Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton" changes everything. They essentially kidnap him and sell him into slavery. This base duplicity leads to the telling of a story of a free man forced into bondage and its horrors. He is sold to the notorious Washington-based slave trader James H. Burch, who brutally whips him for protesting that he is a free man. Eventually he ends up deep in Louisiana and spends the next 12 years of his life there until he was rescued by a prominent citizen of his home state who knew him. In that time he is "sold' to a variety of "owners" although by far the most brutish is Edwin Epps, a "repulsive and coarse" Louisiana cotton planter whom Northup describes as being devoid of any redeeming qualities "and never enjoying the advantages of an education". This is where the burning hurt and degradation of the story reaches its climax. This is a throughly compelling and gripping read. Northup describes the "rhythms" of slavery giving real insight into the relentless whippings, punishments and the back breaking work particularly of cotton picking season. He learns to survive and despite his predicament a fierce intelligence burns not least a sense of the beauty of the nature around him confessing that "there are few sights more pleasant to the eye than a wide cotton field when it is in bloom" . The details in the book of slave living quarters, of sticks of wood as pillows and the starvation diets of bacon and corn are a key element of this book, but it is the chronicle of the Antebellum era "White masters" that makes you rage with anger. These were possibly one of the most debauched, brutish and hypocritical category of human being this side of white South African police during apartheid. Thank God that Lincoln, with the persistent agitation of abolitionists like the great Frederick Douglas, took them on and won.

The book concludes with the tortuous negotiations around Northup's release from slavery (hampered by the fact that his slave name was "Platt") and the joy of eventual re-union with his family. It is a literary work that deserves all belated plaudits possible. It is written in a surprisingly contemporary manner and Northup is natural storyteller, acutely intelligent and observant plus possessing a dry sense of humour despite his predicament. His prose is beautiful and easy to read and he has a towering tale to tell. The cost of this book is essentially a giveaway and you will not regret its purchase.
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on 2 February 2014
I bought this after seeing the film and didn't expect it to be easy to read because it was written such a long time ago. However, the English was very easy to read - it was just the story that wasn't. Such a sobering tale. The film sticks pretty close and the deviations are clearly for a reason - they don't materially alter the story. Saw an interview with Steve McQueen, who directed the film, in which he said that the book was widely read until the Civil War after which the American public were more interested in the stories about the soldiers - I suppose they thought the battle against slavery had been won.
One great thing about this story is Solomon's generosity of spirit. He speaks kindly of one of his masters, suggesting that he had no choice but to be a slaver because he had been raised to that way of life and all his money was tied up in the trade but that at least he was good to his slaves. Steve McQueen suggested that that slaver was actually the worst of all because he knew it was wrong but carried on owning people.
A rare first hand account by an educated man - most slaves didn't get the chance to learn their letters and tell their stories.
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on 12 January 2014
it's taken me longer than usual to read this book. Not because it was uninteresting or boring. I honestly found it difficult to read for long periods of time. I felt such despair and frustruation throughout I needed to stop reading for a while. I am humbled by Soloman Northrup and all of those who endured the relentless pain of slavery. I am utterly speechless.
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on 15 January 2014
This an amazing account of Solomon Northup's 12 years in bondage and the hardships and inhumanities that he suffered under slavery in the south, after being kidnapped while a free citizen of the North.

There that this book should be up there as a classic and also as a piece of historic literature that should be read by everyone.
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"Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup is famous story about slavery that was two days ago reissued as enhanced edition with Dr. Sue Eakin as contributor.

The novel was released again to accompany the release of the movie full of stars like Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti, which will be most probably one of the pretenders for this year's Oscar.
Inside reader will find sad but true story about Solomon Northup, a free and educated family man with three children who was of the wrong color and therefore kidnapped and transported to Louisiana experiencing twelve years of slavery.

He work hard in New Orleans, he received new slave name and whenever he mentioned his past he was severely punished for what he quickly realized that it was best to keep quiet about it.
Only thing he could do is to try to survive such hard life not giving up on finding a way to escape from slavery...

The events which were described in this novel are overwhelming and give reader detailed picture how America back then looked like regarding the racial divide.
The story is even more shocking when we remember that main character was born as free man, was educated, and had a family being father of three kids.
Due to the fact that this novel was written more than century and half ago, its style can feel a bit dated using linguistic structure and writing that is characteristic for that period.

Nevertheless, it's obvious that that author was a smart and educated man, which is perhaps the only good thing in this whole situation, because he was able to tell his story unlike countless illiterate and sad black people of that time that couldn't.
Therefore he raise public awareness of the problem and no matter how slow, he initiated changes to start happening.

"Twelve Years a Slave" is historically important book that deserves reader's attention, although be prepared for a little more trouble in its reading compared to modern literature.
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on 19 January 2014
Superb account of the trials and tribulations of slavery. Necessarily diluted and compressed for the otherwise brilliant film. I cannot understand why this book hasn't been required reading for the last 150 years.
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on 1 March 2014
I know its probably a sin to say it but I found this book really boring, even the fact it was a true story couldn't keep me gripped. It was too slow for my liking. I can't believe I am saying this but I think I would rather have watched the film!
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on 28 April 2014
This frank and honest account of the author's experiences is often harrowing to read, yet is told with a straight forwardness that is refreshing and certainly lends credibility to the story. Having not seen the film version of this book I was unsure exactly what to expect within. And while it is simply told the story comes alive with the remarkable detail that Northup is able to recall from his time in bondage. The people that he meets are vivid and well rounded, and while for many of them of them we never find out what happens to them, this obviously not being a work of fiction, their stories still matter to us.
Overall this is a sad reminder of the atrociousness of slavery and will hopefully educate future generations so that those that suffered and died will be remembered for the kind of courage and bravery in the face of such overwhelming conditions that Solomon Northup showed.
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on 24 February 2014
I chose this rating because I found it a gripping but terrifying book. The true account written in its simplicity and recall from memory by Solomon Northup transported me though the whole gamut of emotions leaving me feeling bereft and saddened even though the ending was more encouraging and joyful......(after 12 years. ) I was shocked at the simple matter-of-fact way in which Solomon Northup suffered and survived such injustices of inhumanity. Of course, this has gone on for centuries and one only has to look around the world today to see that cruelty still survives in all its terrible forms. As a human race, have we learned nothing? I was greatly affected by this book so much so that I was unable to watch the film of the same name...I had seen enough. I am only thankful that I do know very many kind, honest, gentle people who wouldn't even hurt a wasp!
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