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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 5 December 2017
David Wilson helped Solomon Northup write this book and this fact, that a white man helped a black man write his experiences may be one of the reasons that when it comes to books by slaves this has been often overlooked in the past (of course with a film adaptation that changed). At the time of the first publication of this it was quite well known as it came on the back of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and gave more weight to the abolitionist movement. Solomon did give lectures and such like when this was first published and then dropped out of the limelight, and I don’t think anyone really knows what happened to him, when he died, or where.

Northup was a free man although black, as he was a resident of New York, and his father had been given his freedom in the past. Northup was tricked and then kidnapped and sold on as a slave, which did happen on occasion. It is a part of the slave trade that we seem to overlook when we talk about African American history. You needed to be able to produce documents to prove that you were a free man, and in the case of Northup and many others, they were either stolen, or were not obtained in the first place. Indeed, such tricks were quite old and similar ones were played on those Europeans who sold themselves into bondage to eventually achieve something in America in the past.

Solomon gives us his account of how he found himself to be kidnapped and enslaved, and what he went through whilst dreaming of freedom. He was an educated man, practical with his hands and was married with three children and it was truly appalling what happened to him. This story is quite harrowing as most slave literature is and reminds us that such practices still are with us today, and should be stopped.

Because Solomon was from the State of New York, this actually turned out to be his salvation as that State had already passed a statute if such a thing should happen to a black resident, with regards to kidnapping and sold into slavery. For twelve long years Solomon was a slave, and then thankfully due to a Canadian helping him his friends from New York were able to locate him. Mainly in part to the new film release of this that we do in part owe a thanks to this book once more being widely available as it reminds us all of man’s inhumanity to man and that as we are now in the Twenty First Century perhaps more thought and action should be given to preventing slavery and other inhumanities from continually occurring. I’m no optimist and I know that things such as wars are inevitable, but slavery and other degradations of our fellow humans should be stopped if we want to progress as a species.
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on 6 May 2017
On one level this is simply a story about a man who finds himself in hell and just wants to go home. On that level it's a page-turner.

The other level is that it's a true story.

In places it's not at all an easy book to read. Not because of the writing, which is straight forward and remarkably detached - Northrup wrote just to tell his story and let it speak for itself - but because of the things and the events it describes.

If you've seen the film but not read the book be warned that the film does not come close to depicting the violence in the book. The film had to look away; Northrup couldn't.

Northup's story is very powerful on the barbaric and brutal levels of violence, on the senseless hate, the screaming injustice, and the sheer stupidity of slavery and on the way a slave-owning society above all brutalises itself.

That perhaps is the most horrifying aspect - that an entire society, with a few brave exceptions, thought all this was perfectly Christian and reasonable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 November 2014
This is powerful, maddeningly brutal, heartfelt and hard to forget.

I've put off reading this for several months, knowing the content from the Oscar-winning film. Actually, it wasn't as hard to read as I'd feared, but scenes will linger for me.

I've read The Long Song, Chains, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Beloved. Solomon made it more real for me, the husband and father doing what he can to get home.

His writing style is very much of the period, which I don't have issues with, though some descriptions of farming procedures held little interest in the context of the book for me.

Some of the more shocking scenes were actually those in which slaves are 'granted' three days holiday for Christmas, treated to sumptuous meals and dances by their usually whip-wielding 'masters'. The enjoyment and laughter resulting had me in floods of angry tears.

Solomon wisely state facts and leaves opinion to us his readers. The actions of the participants speak for themselves. Bass I would want awarding medals. To stand out against public opinion and speak as he did - commendable.

It's a book that by rights should be reqiired reading by every secondary school student in the UK and USA. More than textbooks, films, question sheets, students will be forcsped to think about what nations did in their past, what happens when greed trumps humanity.

Not a book you will enjoy but one you won't regret letting into your conscience.
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on 17 August 2017
I was inspired to buy this after seeing the film, and I think it speaks volumes that Steve McQueen and his cast made the film so breath-taking. Granted there is artistic licence in making the movie, but hard as I tried I found the book a little repetitive. Not to say it is not interesting, but it just feels tedious - for me it failed to articulate the horrors that Northup must have endured in those dozen years in quite the way I expected. Part of this may have been a language issue given the book was written well over a century ago and this is not to say this is a bad book - far from it - just that I had perhaps hoped for more.
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on 4 February 2014
I bought the book to read Twelve Years a Slave but was completely overwhelmed by the other accounts, particularly Uncle Tom's Cabin. The phrase 'Uncle Tom' has become such a form of disrespect that it had never occurred to me to seek out the source material. Having read it, I can see why this book galvanised people into fighting a war against slavery. It is a pitch perfect rendering of both sides of the argument (as much as there can be 2 sides to an argument about slavery) with the most inspiring array of characters. My heart was in my mouth as I read each chapter and the intensity of the threat towards each character increased then settled then increased again. This book should be compulsory GCSE material and I urge people to take every opportunity to read all the accounts contained here.
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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 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!
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on 5 September 2015
I decided to read the book before I saw the film, and I managed to read the whole book in one sitting on a train ride home.

How can a book like this have disappeared from bookshelves? I am thankful to the film for bringing this story back from obscurity. Twelve Years a Slave conveys the brutality of African-american slavery in a graphic style – the horrors that Solomon has to put up with are unbearable. Yet in an archaic fashion, despite the horrors, Solomon expresses hope and a longing to see his family. All the while expressed through a neutral tone with no hint of bias or bitterness.

Twelve Years a Slave is as hard-hitting and memorising as The Dairy of Anne Frank – a story which needs to be read.
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on 1 March 2014
Like many other reviewers, I read this ahead of the film, and was really glad I did. Solomon Northrup's journey from free man to slave and eventually back to freedom again is an essential read. I can't believe it practically disappeared from public consciousness for a century, while works like Uncle Tom's Cabin remained in popular circulation all that time. Perhaps it was easier for society to understand the true brutality of slavery from a more detached, second hand source?

Although Northrup told his story to a ghostwriter following his release from slavery, the writing does feel authentic and spirited. What I loved about the book - and Northrup himself - was that he never stops giving up hope of regaining his freedom. Even when he has spent years under the whip and can plainly see the futility of his situation, he is ever vigilant for means of escape. His wit, bravery and love for his family ensure his survival, and the reader will be rooting for him throughout. As a huge wake up call to the slavers and anti-abolitionists, this account of an intelligent man trapped in unremitting drudgery and treated worse than an animal was surely a sign that their superiority beliefs were completely unfounded.

The other outstanding quality of this book is the balanced portrayal of Northrup's bondage. There is violence, horrific in places, but it is never gratuitous. There is humiliation and hard work, and Northrup is open about the way his fellow slaves were treated as well, but it never feels like he is asking for us to pity them. Northrup is even able, on occasions, to describe moments of peace and reminders of the man he is. The fact that he was allowed to keep his violin and escape for a while in his passion for music must have been a godsend to him. He himself admits that it was sometimes the only thing that kept him going.

Even if this had been written as fiction, it would be well worth a read. Unlike the aforementioned Uncle Tom's Cabin, which muddied its narrative with superfluous passages, characters and situations, Northrup's tale flows easily and never deviates from its central message. It is obviously not something you can really call enjoyable, due to the content, but it is certainly engaging.

For those who have seen the film and may have been left a bit confused by some scenes, the book will answer every question. Be warned though, the violent scenes depicted in the book are actually far worse than what you will have seen on screen. They are necessary to show us just how easily and badly ultimate power can be abused, but they don't make for comfortable reading.

The feeling I was finally left with when the book reached its conclusion was one of awe and inspiration. Northrup was an amazing man, held back only by the colour of his skin. Who knows what he might have achieved in another time?
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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.
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