on 2 February 2014
A personal account of abduction, enslavement and rescue by a free born African American in pre-civil war America. This kindle version is not illustrated as advertised but no matter, the work stands alone very well without this embellishment. It is a heart rending tale containing some truly gruesome scenes of deprivation and torture. I think the editor in setting down the story as communicated verbally to him by Solomon Northup, probably took a little licence with some of the expressions and sentiments contained in this volume. I think this is understandable as it was certainly meant to appeal to a white audience to garner support for the abolishionist cause. I have read other reviews that suggest Solomon was a victim of his own attempt to scam a slave trader and this accusation is dealt with in the latter pages of the book. I don't think it matters how he came to be sold into slavery. There is enough corroboratory evidence to assure us that his treatment and experiences as a slave are accurate and believable. So this really is an indictment of a trade in human flesh that formed a significant and profitable industry and represents a period of incomprehensible institutionalised cruelty which casts a shadow to this day. What I took from this was the very strong sense of Solomon's character and strength of will. What it must have taken to survive those 12 years without completely giving up in despair, I can barely imagine. How a people can endure not just the physical hardship but the injustice of slavery for so long, again is hard to fathom although Solomon gives a very good personal interpretation of how and why this can and was achieved. At the end of his ordeal, there is great relief at being restored to his family and freedom; gratitude to those helped secure his release but surprisingly little bitterness. Indignation, a sense of the great injustice of his situation certainly but overriding this, a pragmatism which made the greatest impression on me. As to the writing style and language. Yes, it's nineteenth century. I found it very easy to read. If you struggle with the English of this period, I hope you give this a try and persevere. Stories like this need to be read, still. Lessons still not learnt etc!
on 28 February 2014
This book transports the reader to a life of horror that cannot be imagined. From a very violent capture and enslavement to many years of torture, starvation and overwork. To think that the writer celebrates his final freedom, while his 'owner' only looks at the situation as a loss of property is hard to put into perspective. While Solomon Northup is finally safe in the arms of his family, those who were his co-workers, or fellow slaves were left behind to suffer further beatings, starvation diet and eventually death, without ever having the freedom to choose the course of their own lives. The book leaves the reader with joy that Solomon finally returns home, but overwhelming sadness for all of those left behind.
on 22 November 2013
The book reveals nothing we didnt already know about the cruelty of slavery. However the beauty is in how it is written and one can imagine how the very detailed and descriptive text would have been considered truelly shocking in the 1870s when it was written. The book has left me keen to see the film due out early next year which by all accounts is going to be sensational.
Although it is unclear to what extent this story was "ghosted" at the time, it is a vivid first-hand account of the experiences of Solomon Northup, born to a freed man in the New York area but tricked and kidnapped into slavery in the Louisiana of the early 1840s.
Having seen the film already, I knew what to expect plot-wise, and assumed that, since McQueen's drama is so powerful, I would gain little from reading the book, the reverse of what is normally the case i.e. books usually out-class the films on which they are based. In fact, I was impressed by the immediacy with which Northup's thoughts come through the language which, apart from occasional wording that seem quaint to us now, is for the most part a very articulate and engaging flow. I was also surprised and pleased how closely the director had kept to the book. There is a particularly powerful scene in the film where Northup is forced to beat Patsy, a young slave woman who is guilty only of going to obtain from a kindly neighbour soap denied her by a jealous mistress. I thought that McQueen must have exaggerated this incident for dramatic effect but found that it tallies with Northup's description. The latter's account of how Patsy is caught between a sexually abusive master and vengeful mistress makes almost unbearably moving reading even when one has seen the film.
I respected Northup's honesty, for instance, in regarding himself as superior to those born to slavery and reduced to a bestial state by their treatment, although at the same time he clearly respected and felt sympathy for those left in bondage after his release. He also conveys well the “catch-22” situation in which to reveal his past experience of freedom, and his ability to read and write, put him at greater risk of violence, since the slave-owners felt threatened by workers who did not conform to the stereotypes which seemed to justify their inhuman treatment.
The academic Sarah Churchwell wrote recently of the theory that Northup may have been a bit of a rogue in real life, colluding in his kidnapping in a money-making scam which backfired on him, but there is no evidence of this in the autobiography. Some of the interesting notes at the end of the book suggest that Northup may have fallen into drunkenness after his release, and been recaptured, but this cannot be proven. It could be that Northup became embittered, in view of the irony that, as a black man, he was not entitled, once free, to give evidence in court against those who had wrongfully sold him into slavery.
on 6 March 2014
A wonderfully written life story of a free coloured man kidnapped from the North, given another name in the South and sold into slavery. The insight into the cruelty and wickedness in the plantation owners and their families is an eye opener. The belief that they were superior to their slaves and is normal the treat them like animals. What an awful place in the South with beliefs like this. A cracking book. Highly recommended. Thank the civil war to save and release these poor slaves
on 10 March 2011
This is a fascinating book, but this edition is a hard copy of an e-book edition from Digireads.com, and like many ebooks it's full of typing errors. Some are so bad you can't even guess what the word is even meant to be, and the frequency of errors starts to grate after the first couple of chapters. I have decided to throw it away and buy a good, honest, old-school proper book, which I wish I had done in the first place. But based on what I have read so far, I would recommend this book in another edition (after all, I am buying it twice!). An incredible story.
on 14 May 2014
I had never heard of this book until about 6months ago and then we had all of the hype around the film. I have recently read some Toni Morrison and Alice Walker as part of my uni degree and we have spoken at length about texts from within a culture group and what voice the stories give them etc.
My husband was keen to watch the film but, as an avid reader, i always insist on reading the book before the film. I bought this for 37p which is such a bargain! I sat down to read this at 8.30 last night and couldn't put it down until 12.30am! It moved me. There are parts that make you want to cry but i was too sad to cry! I was horrified that this type of thing could actually happen, did happen! I had to keep reminding myself this was a person's true experiences. It's like when you first see Schindler's List - the horror of what you see on screen is magnified by the fact that you know this actually represents something that truly happened.
I love that the book doesn't go too much into what happened after he got home and I really felt there was an almost rushed, detached was of telling the story - like he wanted to share his story (and the plight of his race, he stood alone but shoulder to shoulder with others) but he wanted to just tell it, let it go and get away from it.
I feel an attachment to Solomon, his bravery, his resilience and his love. I am looking forward to watching the film but i feel like i too need to now distance myself from the book before i can take that next step.
If you've seen the film, don't miss a chance to read the book it's based on.
There's still some doubt as to the veracity of this book, but it's a more coherent and effective damnation of slavery than the rather slick film (that gives little impression that 12 years passed, in my view) did.
Well worth a read.
Solomon Northup was born in 1808, the son of a freedman whose ancestors had been slaves in Rhode Island. In 1841 he was tricked and kidnapped, handed over to slave traders and transported to Louisiana. While initially owned by "the kind, noble, candid, Christian" master, William Ford, he was sold after his master fell on hard times and for most of the rest of his captivity was owned by the cruel Edwin Epps. He had many bitter low points ("there have been hours in my unhappy life....when the contemplation of death as the end of earthly sorrow - of the grave as a resting place for the tired and worn out body - has been pleasant to dwell upon"). He eventually managed to smuggle out letters through a sympathetic contact and secure his freedom and return to his family in New York in 1853. I haven't seen the 2013 film based on this book, but will now seek to do so.
Solomon tells his story, published a few months after his return to freedom, in simple but powerful words and is at times quite laconic in its presentation of the sufferings he endures ("..after a bondage of twelve years - it has been suggested that an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public"). Being written with the mindset of the mid-19th century, it contains assumptions that are of its time, e.g. while believing that the black man is as entitled to freedom as the white man, he seems to have imbibed the belief that most (though not all, in his view) white men are inherently superior ("[I was]..conscious, moreover, of an intelligence equal to that of some men, at least, with a fairer skin"; "I clasped them [his children] to my bosom with as warm and tender love as if their clouded skins had been as white as snow").
He recounts the rhythms of the slaves' lives, the brusque separation of family members, the beatings and hard labour, the inadequate and monotonous diet, but above all, I think, the sheer arbitrariness of the slave's life; the knowledge that a master can do anything he or she wishes to what the law deems his or her own property. Despite having worked for both humane and cruel masters, he is clear that "nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one" and that ignorant writers talking about the "pleasures of slave life... will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred [slaves] are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves."
One final powerful image: "Within plain sight of this same house [the slave pen in Washington], looking down from its commanding height upon it, was the Capitol. The voices of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and equality, and the rattling of the poor slave's chains, almost commingled".
Brilliant stuff and a defence of human freedom that is relevant to all races and nations and to any period of time.
on 13 February 2016
This is a great book ,I always think the books are better than the films and this one is no exception I think a book brings your own inner feelings and this book is full feeling ,the way the characters in this story are treated is heartbreaking but made you want to keep on reading well worth the read even if you've seen the film ,would recommend