Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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BOOK review
Started on: 17.April.2014
Finished on: 21.April.2014

Title : Twelve Years a Slave
Author : Solomon Northup
Publisher : Dover Publications / Hesperus Press
Pages : 325 Pages (e-book) / 208 Pages
Year of Publication : 2012
Price : $ 9.81 (www.bookdepository.com/)

Rating: 3/5
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"Let not those who have never been placed in like circumstances, judge me harshly. Until they have been chained and beaten - until they find themselves in the situation I was, borne away from home and family towards a land of bondage - let them refrain from saying what they would not do for liberty."
12 Years a Slave is an autobiography/memoir written by Solomon Northup about the times when freedom was taken away from him and he was turned into a slave. Solomon Northup is a freeman who lives in Saratoga, New York, with his wife and children. He's a skilled carpenter and violinist; so when one day two men offered him a high-wage job as a musician for a traveling circus, Northup doesn't hesitate and quickly agreed to it - without informing his wife who was away for work. He traveled with the two men, Brown and Hamilton. But then Northup started feeling really sick until he fell unconscious. Unfortunately, when he's awake, he found out that he was drugged and chained in the cell of a slave pen.

"It could not be that a free citizen of New-York, who had wronged no man, nor violated any law, should be dealt with thus inhumanly. The more I contemplated my situation, however, the more I became confirmed in my suspicions."
Northup was being held by a well-known slave-dealer in Washington called James H. Burch; and when he tried to declare his identity as a free man, all he got was beatings and more beatings - until he had to accept the fact that he is now a slave. Northup was then bought by a good man named William Ford, who owned a lumber mill. His carpentry skills earned him praise but the joy of having Ford as a master doesn't last long. Northup was leased to John Tibeats, a man who can never be satisfied and always find wrongs in the slaves. When Northup feels he has done nothing wrong, he fought Tibeats back - resulting anger and grudge in his master's heart. Tibeats keep trying to kill Northup, until he finally ran away - saved by Ford. But after that, Northup was sold to another man named Edwin Epps - a cruel cotton planter. And Northup was enslaved under Epps orders and beatings for 10 long years.
"Oh! how heavily the weight of slavery pressed upon me then. I must toil day after day, endure abuse and taunts and scoffs, sleep on the hard ground, live on the coarsest fare, and not only this, but live the slave of a blood-seeking wretch, of whom I must stand henceforth in continued fear and dread."
"Ten years I toiled for that man without reward. Ten years of my incessant labor has contributed to increase the bulk of his possessions. Ten years I was compelled to address him with down-cast eyes and uncovered head - in the attitude and language of a slave."
During the time he work for Epps, Northup witnessed the cruelty of slavery; how Epps could easily punish the slaves with tens to hundreds of whipping. Most of the time, the things Epps asked them to do are beyond their ability - but if they are unable to accomplish it, they will get another set of beatings. When Northup was assigned as a driver - who oversee the works of the slaves and punish them - he managed to fake the whipping for the sake of others. After so long, Northup finally sees a chance of getting back his freedom when he met Bass - a man who despise the idea of slavery. Northup gathers his courage and tells Bass the fact that he was a free man - who was sold as a slave. This story tells how Northup gets back his freedom, after the long and winding road of slavery.
"There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones - there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there surely are those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one."
"To work like his father's mule - to be whipped and kicked and scourged through life - to address the white man with hat in hand, eyes bent servilely on the earth, in his mind, was the natural and proper destiny of the slave."
image source: here. edited by me.
I rarely read non-fiction and I wasn't going to pick this up originally, but because I wanted to see the movie adaptation (because there's just so much hype around it, and it won Oscars), I finally decided to read the book first. I had both the paperback and e-book version; however the writing in the paperback is so tiny, it just makes me sleepy all the time. So I started reading the e-book version, and figured it might make me used to read books using Kindle. About the book, I have to say I am inspired by Solomon Northup because he never loses hope that one day he will become a free man once again. I really admire and respect the story, however I wasn't really engaged in the writing/narration. The story is written in the 1800s and there are a lot of familiar phrases (thank God for Kindle's built-in dictionary, though) which made it for me to understand sometimes.

The first-half of the book was a bit tough for me to get through, because there are a lot of changes; and there are so many new names showing up - so I'm not sure who or what to focus on; I may have forgotten most of the names already by now. In the second-half, when the story starts to settle, I'm starting to gain more interest. The story tells us the horror of slavery, how their masters could easily punish them by whipping - for no obvious reason, the routine of cotton plantation - the standard they must keep daily, and many more. I winced when a slave named Patsey (who's the best worker in the field) was stripped out of her clothes and got whipped just because she got soap from a mistress. I got really excited when in the second-half of the story Northup finally sees a chance to get his freedom back. When he saw the familiar face of his friend, I felt so relieved, as if a huge burden is lifted from my shoulders. This book is indeed a heavy read.

There are so many characters in this book and my attention only goes to: Solomon Northup (obviously), William Ford, Edwin Epps, Patsey, and Bass. Edwin Epps is my least favorite character, so I won't discuss him much here - I will write about him in next week's Top 5 Wednesday, which is Top Characters You Hate. As for my favorite character, I will have to choose William Ford! His character is like a breath of fresh air in this book -  a goodness amidst all the evil of slavery. Below is a quote about Ford and also a quote by him - which talks about how people always look to God in times of difficulty, but doesn't remember God when there's nothing to worry.
"During my residence with Master Ford I had seen only the bright side of slavery. His was no heavy hand crushing us to the earth. He pointed upwards, and benign and cheering words addressed us as his fellow-mortals, accountable, like himself, to the Maker of us all. I think of him with affection, and had my family been with me, could have borne his gentle servitude, without murmuring, all my days."
"I felt forsaken of the whole world, I answered him, and was praying mentally all the while. At such times, said he, the heart of man turns instinctively towards his Maker. In prosperity, and when there is nothing to injure or make him afraid, he remembers Him not, and is ready to defy Him ; but place him in the midst of dangers, cut him off from human aid, let the grave open before him - then it is, in the time of his tribulation, that the scoffer and unbelieving man turns to God for help, feeling there is no other hope, or refuge, or safety, save in his protecting arm."
Overall, even though it was a heavy and tough read for me, there are also some things I like about the book. I am totally amazed how Solomon Northup managed to survive all those years and even succeeded in getting back the freedom he deserves. And now I can't wait to see the movie adaptation, because I've heard only good things about it - hopefully it won't disappoint me. For those who haven't seen the movie, check out the movie trailer below ;)
"I had clung to him as a drowning man clings to the floating spar, knowing if it slips from his grasp he must forever sink beneath the waves. The all-glorious hope, upon which I had laid such eager hold, was crumbling to ashes in my hands. I felt as if sinking down, down, amidst the bitter waters of Slavery, from the unfathomable depths of which I should never rise again."
 
 
by.stefaniesugia♥ .

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