For all my 70 years, I’ve not been able to wrap my mind around the concept of slavery. How can one man truly believe in his heart of hearts that “owning” a human being is not only justified, but righteous.
How does that “master” inflict brutal punishment, then sit down to a family dinner, laughing about inconsequential things?
How can the slave possibly endure 40, or even 140 lashes, and live? How can he survive, and then go back to work the very next day?
How can the master not understand that beating a slave within an inch of his – or her – life, instantly degrades the work that captured person is able to perform? The more he beats, the less productive his “property” becomes.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE by Solomon Northrup is the first book I have ever found addressing slavery from the view of a captured man. Yes, I encountered the run away Jim in the Tom Sawyer books, but that was fiction – right? Surely Mark Twin had to be making up all that stuff about slaves?
Apart from the gut-wrenching story of a human being born torn away from his loving family, I was amazed at the WAY this story was told. Northrup was very well educated, and his language is the very high-toned style of the late 1800s. Although I am well-read, Northrup uses words I have never seen before. My bad.
Northrup interrupts his narrative from time-to-time with a flash forward, which I did not like. I prefer my stories to be told in a linear fashion, but I totally understand how hard it is to write a true autobiography without a little exposition. I’ve used it myself.
In the Penquin paperback version I read, the publisher crammed in scores of pages of introduction, a foreword, and an extra essay that I failed to complete. I wanted to jump into the story itself. Why dissect the narrative BEFOREHAND!
At the end of the book, their are also tons of pages devoted to establishing the paper trail of Northrup. Document after document supports his report decades after he put ink to paper.
Their is also much action amidst the pathos in this story, including an escape through the bayous of Louisiana.
It might make a good movie.