12 years a slave, Solomon Northup

Book Reviews English Memoires

After living many peaceful years with his family in the free north state of New York as a free black man, having several children and a loving wife, Solomon Northup was misled and then kidnapped by two men, pretending to want him for his excellent skills on the violin, and woke to his new life as a slave, in a cell and in chains.
As early as his first day he already nearly got his life beaten out of him, as he claimed to be a free man, and so learned to hold his tongue, but nevertheless waiting for an opportunity to escape.
In ’12 years a slave’ Solomon Northup narrates the story of his capture, under the command or, in other situations, under the violence of his various Masters, and finally his long awaited and hoped for liberation.

Not only is the story very fascinating and informative, but I believe Northup has well judged the importance and relevance of different scenarios. For one thing even though the tale might have gotten twisted in his memories because of his emotions, he was very much able to describe his surroundings and the fellow slaves’ as well as the Masters’ characters. On the other hand, I could always keep track of his emotions, his thoughts, his feelings.
Actually I was a little surprised at this book. I am aware this sounds discriminating right now: I was surprised that a slave would be able to write in such a stylistically beautiful way. But you should consider that I didn’t know what the book was about at the beginning and so, didn’t know he had been a free educated man once. Therefore in a way, it opened my eyes even more to the influence of discrimination.
As I mentioned above Solomon’s book is stylistically beautifully written. Phrase structure, variety, expressions, the whole lot. He has developed his own style. There isn’t much conversation in comparison to most novels, but since it’s not a novel but more of a biography and, like I wrote before, it’s well written, it didn’t bother me in the least.
The one thing that did bother me however were the few paragraphs that Solomon added to try to prove that his story was true, where he added details, references and names of places, etc. that weren’t essentially relevant for the story and his experience itself. But I understand the necessity for a black man to have firm proof at that time, since they used to be less believable.
Reading this book also told me more about human limits. When Solomon described how he was beaten for the most trivial reasons my first reaction was astonishment at the strength a human being can have in certain circumstances. I was amazed at Solomon for bearing this cruelty for many long years. And then came the resentment and annoyance at all the uncaring masters, who actually enjoyed tormenting their slaves, not only for their cruelty, but because they couldn’t even understand that their acts were wrong. Last but not least I was relieved. Relieved that I grew up in a different environment because otherwise I know I would probably have acted the exact same way.
All in all, I enjoyed the book as well as learned from it and recommend it to anyone who enjoys discovering new emotions and wants to know more about slavery in the 19th century.


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