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on 27 October 2013
The cruelty of the human race never fails to amaze me. I have no doubt that Solomon Northup's narrative is as accurate as it can be, but the content of this book is truly shocking. This glimpse into African American enslavement is one of horror and shows just how brutal man can be to his fellows.

Solomon is captured and enslaved against his will, removed from his wife and two children and transported by sea to begin his new life as the chattel of another man. What he witnesses in his 12 years of enslavement is harrowing, to say the least. This is a land where Mothers are forcibly removed from their children, brutal whippings occur with frightening frequency, near starvation and being worked literally to death were common occurrences. Slaves were not even given the most basic privileges of a knife and fork or plate upon which to eat. Imagine a life where you cannot travel, marry or even post a letter without your owner's permission!

Thankfully, Solomon eventually finds a way out of his predicament, but it was a risk that might have caused his own death had it backfired on him.

Conclusion: A 5 star read. Once I picked it up, I simply could not put it down. Let's just hope that the world continues to endeavor to allow every man the right to his freedom.
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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 9 February 2014
I bought this partly because I had just seen the film and partly because I wanted to download something to my new kindle. I was surprised to find that it is actually several books about slavery in the edition I bought.

12 years a slave is spellbinding. I had already read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" years ago, and I don't know why "12 Years" has never received more acclaim. It is at least as good as Uncle Tom, and has the added advantages of being a first hand account by someone to whom these experiences really happened. I read it in two days, and am now reading another of the books that came with it in the download, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl", another autobiographical account, and also gripping. Everyone with an interest in the subject should read these.
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on 23 October 2013
This is an appalling first person diary of human cruelty and maltreatment, but it does make for page-turning without cessation...it beggars belief on many levels, but also tells the story of the curse of human bondage. If you are a history buff, you'll enjoy the look into a pre-Civil War life, gain many insights to the mechanics of slave trade, and see how slave owners were loathed and loved as well, depending on their behaviour to their property. The film should be fantastic, but be warned; if it is as graphic as the book's accounts, it'll be disturbing. More than anything, this book is about lousy luck!
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on 7 August 2013
this book is superb it is about solomon northup a man living in america in the 1800s who was born a free man but ends up a slave for 12 years there is a film coming out later this year telling this story so if you are going to see it i recommend reading the book first
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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 4 January 2014
Book was as good as expected from the reviews if not better, found it very informative and highly engaging. Book leaves you in the mind frame of thinking alot about your roots but i think the book is definitely worth having.
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on 23 November 2013
An absolutely harrowing read. Brutally honest and direct to a fault, it's a book that will leave you battered but determined that this level of cruelty should never again be levelled at other members of the human race. Highly recommended for those who are human.
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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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