Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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Twelve Years a Slave is the final book in my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge!  I am so excited to give away the books from this challenge to one lucky winner–so stay tuned!

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I’ve been studying slavery and other social justice issues since I was a child.  For some reason, those difficult subjects have always fascinated me.  I had never heard of Solomon Northup, nor seen the recent movie that is based on this book.

First, you should know that this book uses old-fashioned language.  That’s just something that you’ll have to get used to.  The words may not flow off your tongue like melted butter, but you should really stick with it because of how truly fascinating the story is.

Second, you will notice that this story seems to be choked with minute details that wouldn’t really be necessary for simply telling the story.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, Solomon had to establish his right in representing the true state of slavery by proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that his story was undeniably true.  All of the small details in the book are facts that could be checked and corroborated.  Additionally, Solomon published this book a short time after he was rescued from captivity, hoping that by sharing his story he could educate people about the truth of slavery.  (Remember, at this time there were people who actually believed that the slave preferred his state of bondage to a life of freedom.)  As a free, educated colored man, he had a unique perspective to offer.  He had been accustomed to freedom, then that freedom was stripped from him and he was forced to endure slavery.  Twelve years later he was restored to freedom again.  Upon his return, he could give utterance to the true state of slavery in an observant, introspective, and educated manner.  He could speak to whites at the time on an equal footing (at least intellectually).  So, while the details may get tedious and seem irrelevant at times, they served a very specific purpose when the book was written.

I must say that I really enjoyed this book.  I didn’t enjoy reading about the hardships and injustices, but I appreciated learning about Solomon’s experiences.  Mainly he shares events and information about his daily life in a matter-of-fact tone.  He also shares the things he felt and what others said.  The reader is expected to arrive at their own conclusion as to whether or not slavery is a just institution.  I appreciate that Solomon appealed to the reader to take what they had read and consult their own conscience about what was fair or not.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“They left me in the cabin, that I might rest.  Blessed be sleep!  It visiteth all alike, descending as the dews of heaven on the bond and free.  Soon it nestled to my bosom, driving away the troubles that oppressed it, and bearing me to that shadowy region, where I saw again the faces, and listened to the voices of my children, who, alas, for aught I knew in my waking hours, had fallen into the arms of that other sleep, from which they never would arouse.” (p. 94)

“‘If I was in New-England,’ returned Bass, ‘I would be just what I am here.  I would say that Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished.  I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage.  It would be hard for you to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty.  You have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice, than Uncle Abram yonder.  Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us?  And what difference is there in the color of the soul?  Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel.'” (p. 179)

Because of the subject matter and language, I would suggest this book for teens and up.

Possible Objections:

  • A lot of violence
  • Racial epithets
  • Bad language — mostly the d-word
  • Some talk of sexual exploitation

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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