Wednesday, September 23, 2015
12 Years a Slave
Posted by JaneGS
I took a mini-break from Italy to listen to one of the books on my TBR Pile Challenge list, 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup.
Not only was it a fantastic book, I was so surprised to discover that it was an actual memoir, first published in 1854, a year after Solomon Northup was rescued and allowed to return to his family and free status in New York.
I read and was surprised to enjoy Uncle Tom's Cabin a few years ago, and so I couldn't help but compare the two works, published so closely together in time. While Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel is powerful, you never forget that it is a novel. Its sentimentality sometimes undermines the message, but Northup's narrative, which is told in a calm but resolute voice, is strengthened by the knowledge that it is not fiction but very sad fact.
I find it surprising and a bit troubling that I never heard of this book before the movie came out. When I think back to high school required reading lists, this book, which delineates so well the curse that slavery cast over the United States, should definitely be part of every American's education.
Not only is Solomon's story compelling--being a freedman, captured and sold into slavery, set to work on plantation--but it documents how society worked in the 1840's and 1850's, the economic, physical, and agricultural drivers as well as the social and spiritual factors. Absolutely fascinating, and humbling as well. Books like this make you think how you would fare if challenged in a similar way--Solomon Northup is a hero, who balanced a strong will to live, unbreakable bonds of loyalty to his family, and a core of human dignity that wouldn't let him be treated as less than a man without fighting back.
A great book that I wholeheartedly recommend.