Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years A Slave

I finished reading the book “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup yesterday night. The book tells the story of a free ‘Black’ man in pre civil war America who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He thinks day and night of his freedom and ways to achieve it, able to fulfil that ambition only after being subjected to twelve years of heart wrenching pain and brutalities. The narration in first person by the sufferer of the crimes is as reliable a source as it gets to figure out the true picture of slavery in those times.

An advertisement for 'SALE' of slaves, many of whom were free men of north, abducted and forced into slavery
An advertisement for ‘SALE’ of slaves, many of whom were free men of north, abducted and forced into slavery

The fact that the writer was a free man, capable of reading and writing, a violin player of repute, and was kidnapped and sold by freemen to make profit in the slave trade in itself is capable of moving one to tears. What further deepens the feeling of sadness is the narration of his condition over the years and that of his fellow ‘Black’ men and women, many of whom did not comprehend the concept of ‘freedom’, having been born and brought up in slavery. The writer has thoughtfully weaved their stories in his own, to give the reader a complete picture of the prevailing conditions, describing in details the plantations where the slaves were made to work, the system of their eating and resting and PUNISHING phases of the day, the whole ‘Pass’ requirement to move around, and the need to obtain your masters’ consent to mate or marry.

Slaves working in cotton plantations, required to bring a certain quantity everyday, failing which they would be whipped. This ‘certain’ quantity is determined on the first day, where owing to the fear of being lashed and in eagerness to prove his/ her worth to the master, the slave works the hardest.

While there are instances of the ‘sympathy’ shown by ‘white’ people, the book in general goes on to explain, in a simple, non exaggerated manner the views of freemen who considered slaves just ‘property’, to be used and disposed of at their will, much like their mules or dogs. At the same time, it is the sympathetic white whose determination and will to the writer’s freedom, actually puts forth the process of his redemption.

In my opinion, the book does justice to the task it was written in mind with. It acquaints the reader with the devilish practice, with the right amount of details, the right picture and the concise and truthful narrative. I recommend the book as a definite read and would be on the look out for the adaptation of the same as a movie by the same name. Meanwhile you can grab a copy here.


5 thoughts on “Twelve Years a Slave

  1. I watched this movie some 2 months back, and it was almost as thought provoking as Schindler’s List. Was really moved by the kind of pain people suffer. Northup was a free man, good at what he was doing, earning much more than what other people were, and was more famous, when slavery happened to him.

    1. I would like to see the movie as well. Schindler’s list was a masterpiece, and while I have no doubts on the subject of “Twelve Years A Slave” being as thought provoking, I would like to see how it has been portrayed on screen.

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