Twelve Years a Slave

by Solomon Northup

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Memoir of a black man who was born free in New York state but kidnapped, sold into slavery and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana before the American Civil War. He provided details of slave markets in Washington, DC, as well as describing at length cotton cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana.

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LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
Published in 1853, this is the true life account of Solomon Northup, free man of Saratoga NY, properly educated as a child, married with three children and one time owner of a ferry service on the Hudson River. Through deceit and trickery, he was enticed to Washington DC with a job offer, drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. He was shipped to a slave market in New Orleans where he was sold to William Ford. His time with the kindly Ford was short lived. Due to financial troubles, Ford was forced to sell Northup to the violent and volatile Edwin Epps. Northup toiled for almost 11 years in backwoods Louisiana before being rescued and restored to his family. Upon his return to freedom, Northup brought charges against the perpetrators. The case in NY was dropped due to issues over jurisdiction. The case in DC resulted in an acquittal because Northup, a black man, was not allowed to testify there.

Northup's book was an instant success, selling 30,000 copies. Unlike other slavery accounts of the day, it was written from the perspective and experiences of a free man who finds himself so horribly betrayed and enslaved. His writing was not polemical. (He actually had kind words to say about his first master.) Accordingly, his writing was given greater weight as a true account, written without an agenda. Sympathy for his plight spurred abolitionists and won the approbation of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who stated it magnified and informed her Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the last days of the Civil War, Union soldiers remarkably searched out Edwin Epps, who agreed Northup’s account was factual. Northup spoke movingly and well about his experiences and was sought on the speechmaking circuit. Before being lost to history, documentary evidence also indicates he actively assisted slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

How does this account hold up for modern eyes? Northup’s story is written with all of the verbal flourishes of mid 19th century literature. You will not want to read Twelve Years A Slave for the quality of the prose but rather for the powerful impact of his experiences. I was particularly moved by his palpable love of his wife and children. There is a searing account of one woman’s agony and grief upon being separated from her children at the slave market. Most heartrending is the fate of Patsy, forever caught between the unwanted libidinous interest of her master and the punishments of her spiteful jealous mistress. Historically important both in Northup’s time and ours, this unique perspective on a now incomprehensible way of life is highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member PhilJackson
I'd never heard of this book until promotion for the film, which I've not seen, began and inspired me to seek it out. I got it on my Kindle.
I don't think I'd read anything on American slavery before but I'd imagined I knew pretty much what went on.
However two things came very strongly out of this book for me and which I'd not really thought about before. The first was the grinding relentless reality of slavery, the day after day, month after month, year after year existence, the unceasing toil, unceasing cruelty, the total lack of respect for age or sex or family; above all, what all of this does to someone. The book gives vivid, ofthen harrowing depictions of all of this. And there are moments of vicious brutality which are not at all easy to read.
The second, which Northup touched on in several places, was the utterly warped thinking which slavery engendered, as a necessity, in not just the slave owners but in a slave owning society. I think I can understand now why after abolition it took over a century and five generations to get out from under that thinking; I'd never really understood that before.
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LibraryThing member Stuart_Taylor
The name Solomon Northup meant nothing to me until I saw the film, Twelve Years a Slave.

I don’t usually read a written work after seeing a film adaptation, but in this harrowing instance I made an exception.

Why? Two reasons really. One, because having witnessed a director’s eye view of the story, I wanted to hear the voice of the man who had been kidnapped a free man and sold as a chattel into bondage. Two, Slavery is an age-old human outrage which is as much a vile horror in today’s world as it was during Solomon Northup’s day and across the world for millennia before that.

Solomon’s account shines as the work of an educated and talented man, whose downfall begins when he trusts the wrong people. Believing he could supplement the household income - during the temporary absence of his family – by accepting a two week job, playing the violin; he is lured by two villains to Washington, where he is drugged. Regaining consciousness he finds himself manacled hand and foot in a dark cellar, and stripped of clothes and possessions.
On protesting his status as a free man, Northup suffers a near fatal beating by two strangers, and learns that the men he trusted with the promise of work had tricked him and sold him into slavery.

On leaving the confines of the cellar to be transported, with a small group of unfortunates, to the Southern cotton plantations, the author glimpses the distant outline of the White House, a sad irony not lost to him.

I didn’t enjoy this book. It was far more detailed than the film, which I also didn’t enjoy. I felt both had an essential message however, and both gave testament that there are no depths below which the human animal will stoop when dealing with his fellow man.

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LibraryThing member Tea58
There is no question that Solomon Northup is a hero of American History. This Slave narrative, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, by SOLOMON NORTHUP, is unforgettable. I think the story is not only amazing but also miraculous. When I met Solomon Northup, he was a slave. Solomon Northup is born a free man. He lives in Upstate New York. He has a wife named Anne and three children. He is a hard working man and a honest man. Until one day his whole life changes.

It is difficult to believe there are indeed rascals and scoundrels on the earth and in the vicinity where you live especially when you've been taught all the bad men or evil masters are down South. On this particular day, Mr. Northup befriends two men. Two men who will take him South and sell him to a Southern planter. Solomon Northup had no idea of their ugly plans.

For twelve years Solomon Northup does not mention he is a free man. He works harder than a dog. He is beaten. He is treated like he was born into slavery. I could not see how his life could ever change, how he could regroup from such a trial and test.

I can't imagine losing my whole family in one day. Never hearing whether they are dead or alive for twelve long years. This man, now not a man but an animal, to his slave holders, continues to struggle through each day. I think he had quite a bit of faith. He never praises himself in the narrative. He does finally call himself upright. How does he look upon slavery? He calls it a "peculiar institution." Other than that he will not judge this way of life in any way. He will leave it to other men and women.

Along with Solomon Northup, I met the other slaves around him. I had the chance to read about them. One woman still lives in my head. She had two children. She begged, screamed, begged, "please don't sell my children from me." Those who know about American slavery can guess what happened to her and her children. I could hear her voice in my head because it was my voice. If any man would have taken my children from me to an unknown place, I would have died. I would not have had the fortitude to live on. But how many men and women did live through those days without hope of seeing or hearing their children again? Only an inhumane person could do such a thing to another person.

This woman's story is a testament to the horrors of slavery. It made me think about my values in life. I now believe more fully nothing is impossible in life. Perhaps this is why people say the truth is stranger than fiction. Number two is that I must always keep putting one foot in front of the other foot as I journey through the adventures, unwanted adventures, of my life. I must also remember my scars from life whether emotional or physical in no way touch what the slave ancestors lived each and every day of their short lives.

Strange, one man's narrative has the power two and a half centuries later to give hope to people of another generation. His voice speaks from the grave. He still lives because his story lives. His last wish was to lie in the church graveyard and finally go home to the Lord. Little did he know how much his life would mean to future old and young people. It is a disservice if these slave narratives are not read in our schools and discussed with relevance.

I have been moved by other slave narratives: for example Frederick Douglass's narrative and The Incidents in a Slave Girl's Life. Truly, I think this one, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, is my favorite. Why? Simply because he already had that most precious gift, freedom. He had experienced it. Not just wished for it. He had it. It was stolen from him. How in the world must he have felt? And that is what made me want to read this narrative.

I named two lesson from the narrative by Solomon Northup. There are more than any two I named. As I remember Northup, I will not forget Epps, his wife or the other slaves who worked around him. The slaves had no idea he was a free man until the day Henry Northup came to pick him up and take him back to New York State and his family. Therefore, Solomon Northup taught me the importance of knowing the power of silence at the right hour.

As the young people say, "he kept it "real" for twelve long years. That's a mighty long time to give free labor while you are treated as less than a man in every way. In the end, Epps still called Northup "that d______d n*gg*r." He didn't change one bit in his thinking. As a matter of fact he headed out on his horse to find a way to stop this foolish behavior. Had the world gone nuts? To Epps and white men like him, yes, the world was losing its way. Their workers in a few year would be set free. The Land of Cotton was in danger. Who else would do such work with so little food and clothing while being beater with whips?

If only the "men or masters" around Northup, had looked at that last name. It would have told them life was going to change for the better and the North would help it happen. When it begun to happen, the Civil War, there would be no way for the slaves to go but "up." Up in their geography and Up in their thinking.
.america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/subject-of-12yearsaslave150yearsinwronggrave.html
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LibraryThing member Zumbanista
A Must Read

How was it I never heard of this book before the movie's circulation? I read it in preparation for the movie, which I still have yet to see.

12 Years A Slave is a heartbreaking memoir of a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. And yet I found it an uplifting and inspirational story. The conditions and behaviors are naturally horrifying, but the book is well written and quite balanced in outlook. The fact it is non-fiction and all events are verifiable amazed me. A very moving historical testament.… (more)
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
A free black man is forced into slavery, and stays a slave for twelve years. How can anyone survive what too many of the slaves endured?

This remarkable memoir is highly readable and no one with even the least little heart could fail to be touched deeply by it.

The language is the language of the time, and helps transport the reader to the world of Mr. Northup. The book is relatively short, but what a wallop it packs in those pages. It is never boring and immensely informative.

While painting a very ugly picture, this book is not a diatribe. The author recognizes that although the institution of slavery is abominable, there were masters who treated their slaves well, if holding people against their will, owning them, can ever be considered good treatment.

This particular Kindle edition does have some mistakes in it. I most frequently noticed that words were split in two, but there were also some incorrect words and a few formatting problems. However, and despite the mistakes, the editing is not awful, and the content of the story more than makes up for any editing issues.
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LibraryThing member maggieandersonwriter
In a time when anything considered controversial is censured, Solomon Northup tells his story with honesty and humility. He takes the reader on his journey from being a free black man in the 1800s in America to becoming a beaten, starved and exploited slave, sold from one Master to another like cattle.
His poignant real-life account of the appalling conditions he and his fellow slaves had to endure is heart-wrenching, and opens the reader’s eyes to the disgraceful acts of brutality inflicted on a human being by another.
This man was an upstanding member of his community, who had been well educated and was also an accomplished violin player. He was a family man with a wife and three children, and took every measure possible to give them a decent and comfortable life.
Unfortunately, in March of 1841, he was lured away from his home in Saratoga Springs by a pair of unscrupulous slave traders offering him money to join them on their journey to play his violin. He was drugged and divested of any documentation pertaining to him being free and thrown into a dark cellar, tied up like an animal, to await sale.
What ensued was twelve years of torture that did not break his spirit. He resolved to continue with the hope that one day he would be liberated and once again return to his much-loved wife and children. That liberation came on January 1853.
Northup’s story is one that must be read.
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LibraryThing member DavidO1103
Wrenching, important book by Simon Northrup, an African American free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Written in 1853 (?), apparently helped move public opinion against slavery. Well read performance by Louis Gossett, Jr. (listened to this several months before the movie was released)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
Solomon Northup was born in 1808, the son of a freedman whose ancestors had been slaves in Rhode Island. In 1841 he was tricked and kidnapped, handed over to slave traders and transported to Louisiana. While initially owned by "the kind, noble, candid, Christian" master, William Ford, he was sold after his master fell on hard times and for most of the rest of his captivity was owned by the cruel Edwin Epps. He had many bitter low points ("there have been hours in my unhappy life....when the contemplation of death as the end of earthly sorrow - of the grave as a resting place for the tired and worn out body - has been pleasant to dwell upon"). He eventually managed to smuggle out letters through a sympathetic contact and secure his freedom and return to his family in New York in 1853. I haven't seen the 2013 film based on this book, but will now seek to do so.

Solomon tells his story, published a few months after his return to freedom, in simple but powerful words and is at times quite laconic in its presentation of the sufferings he endures ("..after a bondage of twelve years - it has been suggested that an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public"). Being written with the mindset of the mid-19th century, it contains assumptions that are of its time, e.g. while believing that the black man is as entitled to freedom as the white man, he seems to have imbibed the belief that most (though not all, in his view) white men are inherently superior ("[I was]..conscious, moreover, of an intelligence equal to that of some men, at least, with a fairer skin"; "I clasped them [his children] to my bosom with as warm and tender love as if their clouded skins had been as white as snow").

He recounts the rhythms of the slaves' lives, the brusque separation of family members, the beatings and hard labour, the inadequate and monotonous diet, but above all, I think, the sheer arbitrariness of the slave's life; the knowledge that a master can do anything he or she wishes to what the law deems his or her own property. Despite having worked for both humane and cruel masters, he is clear that "nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one" and that ignorant writers talking about the "pleasures of slave life... will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred [slaves] are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves."

One final powerful image: "Within plain sight of this same house [the slave pen in Washington], looking down from its commanding height upon it, was the Capitol. The voices of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and equality, and the rattling of the poor slave's chains, almost commingled".

Brilliant stuff and a defence of human freedom that is relevant to all races and nations and to any period of time.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
This is the harrowing account of a free black man who was kidnapped. His free papers were stolen, he was viciously beaten into submission and then transported to plantations in the south as a slave. His whereabouts were unknown to any and all who could free him. The idea that any man, of any color, or any background, could be captured and penned, treated like no more than a brute animal, should have been, then and surely now, nothing short of anathema to any breathing human being. Ignorance could not be a legitimate excuse, anymore than it could have been during the Holocaust. Myself, I am at a loss to understand why an economy driven by slaves would be exalted, why greed would be elevated to heights higher than human dignity.
Man’s inhumanity to man, man’s ability to turn a blind eye to human suffering for monetary gain, will render the reader speechless and horrified. As a Jew whose history is steeped in slavery, I felt personally affected by his plight and angered to the point of distraction, because there is absolutely nothing anyone can do today to reverse the effects of the terrible injustice imposed upon people, simply because of their color. They were kept illiterate, forbidden to improve their station in life, beaten violently for the slightest infractions, by people who would not have wanted such a life for themselves or anyone they associated with, and yet, they turned a blind eye to accumulate the all-mighty dollar. Those who hated, taught their offspring to hate. Those who hated, hired overseers who hated. Those who hated often got away unscathed. Justice was usually not served for the black man. No matter how many times one reads about slavery, it is impossible to get used to the idea that human trafficking existed in this country with very little opposition, for many years, and today, still exists in other avenues of the culture.
The successful economy of the plantation depended upon slavery, but while the South flourished, the slaves did not. They worked until their deaths, without hope of freedom or any basic civil rights. In this book, there is a definitive description of the life of a slave, by a man who walked in those shoes. No man or woman could possibly begin to understand the horror of a slave’s existence, the helplessness, the shame, the humiliation, the human suffering, unless they walked in those shoes, themselves. The reader will come to understand, more fully, how cruel and barbaric the practice was and will understand why it has been so hard, for those enslaved and their descendants, to achieve success, even today.
Families were torn asunder, children were separated from mothers, husbands from wives, friends from friends, and then subjected to abuse, beatings, rape, overwork, starvation, unlivable living conditions, and brutal masters, until they were completely subdued and weakened, unable to defend themselves, unable to change their circumstances, unable to do anything but acquiesce or die.
From Solomon’s descriptions of the despicable treatment of the slaves, as if they were less than human, lower than animals in bondage, made to respond like automatons, the reader will come to understand how strong these people had to be, mentally and physically, in order to withstand so much cruelty and exploitation, in order not to succumb. One will wonder why they would even want to live under such conditions, yet they found a way to find enjoyment and pleasure in the few moments they could share together, on holidays, in evenings, in moments when they were alone. They managed to create communities for themselves, even under such horrendous circumstances. Solomon makes it a point of saying that not all masters were cruel. He often found goodness in unexpected places. He, himself, was sometimes forced to be cruel to his friends and fellow slaves, forced to lose his own humanity by joining forces with the masters in order to avoid his own abuse and beatings. His plight, during his years as a slave, when he was required to whip fellow slaves, reminded me of that of the Kapos, during the Holocaust. Kapos were prisoners who meted out the justice and punishment upon other prisoners, for their Nazi captors. Were they co-conspirators or simply saving their own skins? It is an ethical conundrum.
Perhaps not all masters were the same, but all owned their slaves and valued them more for their purchase or resale price and their productivity, rather than for their lives. Some slaves, realizing they would never be free, tried to escape. When caught, the punishment was inhuman. They were whipped beyond comprehension or murdered. Although many tried hard to please their masters, they were often caught between the petty jealousies of the master and the mistress, neither willing to understand that a slave had no choice but to do what they were told, that they had no free will. There was no safety for them. There were no defenders of their plight.
Simply reading about the beatings, often beyond human endurance, made my skin crawl, made me want to find those barbaric, immoral, insensitive savages who treated other human beings so maliciously, though they are long gone. These poor victims had no recourse whatsoever. The mercilessness of the owners and the overseers leaves the reader aghast and hoping there is an afterlife where these people do get their just desserts. They were totally selfish and cold-blooded, pitiless and callous. There are simply no adequate words to describe that blight upon our history.
The years of beatings and abuse never broke Solomon’s spirit; he saw good qualities in almost everyone he met and always maintained a positive attitude, hoping to be free again.
In this memoir, he presents a clear, concise description of slavery from a slave’s vantage point. His daily life was one of monotonous, unending labor and fear. Solomon was luckier than most. He played the violin and could entertain plantation owners, occasionally escaping the toil of his fellow slaves. He was clever and could build and repair most things, unlike the vast majority of slaves who were kept totally imprisoned by their forced life of ignorance. He was therefore, more valued. He knew of the outside world, while they knew of no other than the world of master and slave. He lived to go from his capture and captivity to freedom and his wife and family. He lived to try and see the worst of these slave traders cringe in fear, but not, unfortunately, brought to justice. Even though he was a free man in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of the world, he was still subservient, still second class. Once free, I read that he lectured on his experiences and also worked on behalf of the cause to abolish slavery and to aid other slaves seeking freedom through the Underground Railroad.
The descriptions of the cultivation and picking of the cotton and the process of planting and cutting of the sugar cane, as well as the explanation of how some of the crude equipment worked, was sometimes tedious, and that was the only drawback I could find in this beautifully written memoir, read by Louis Gossett Jr.
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LibraryThing member JackieCraven
Don't be off-put by the Victorian language. We can blame Northup's editor for that. The book is a must-read document. I would have found the story too incredible to believe if not for the painstaking research of Clifford Brown, Rachel Seligman, and David Friske who drew on original sources for their biography, Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years A Slave.… (more)
LibraryThing member mcelhra
Because of the Academy Award nominated movie based on this book, I think most everyone is acquainted with the story of 12 Years a Slave. It’s the memoir written by Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in New York state with his wife and three children. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and was a slave for twelve years before he was rescued.

As one can imagine, Solomon’s time as a slave was utterly horrible. Because of the media coverage of the movie, I expected the worst in terms of what Solomon and the other slaves went through and the truth of it was even worse than I could have ever imagined. Not every scene is intense and graphic – I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book. It’s an important book and should be read by everyone. There are some scenes that are to read though, I won’t lie about that.

I was surprised by how accessible the language Solomon used was. I’ve read other books from the 19th century that were really hard to follow and understand (Dickens, anyone?) This book was very beautifully and descriptively written but I still was always able to follow what was happening. I bought this version of the book because I anticipated struggling with it but I would have been just fine with the regular book.

I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t draw any comparisons between the two but I still highly recommend this book to everyone.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Written in 1853 this is a true story of a free black man, basically kidnapped and sold into slavery. My first impression of this book was how wonderfully well it is written. My second was to note how dispassionately this story was told, as if the author had to emotionally distance himself in order to tell his story. So hard to read some of these events, but he also tells of good owners as well as those that were horrible.

Have read that when this book was first published it caused barely a stir and quickly disappeared. Also recently read that one of the first printed copies of this book recently sold for 3500.00. Worthy read, just wish I knew what happened to the author in his later years.
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LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
“If they don't know as much as their masters, whose fault is it? They are not allowed to know anything. You have books and papers, and can go where you please, and gather intelligence in a thousand ways. But your slaves have no privileges. You'd whip one of them if caught reading a book. They are held in bondage, generation after generation, deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect them to possess much knowledge?”

Reading about slavery from Northup's perspective was quite insightful because he was born free. It felt like he was soaking in every detail from the landscape to the nature and personalities of the other slaves so that he tell this story. Being without pen and paper during his 12 years of slavery did not hinder Northup's memory. I appreciated the details even though most were painful to read.

"Truly, Patsey was a splendid animal, and were it not that bondage had enshrouded her intellect in utter and everlasting darkness, would have been chief among ten thousand of her people."

After viewing the movie based on this book, I could not wait to read Northup's actual narrative about Patsey played by the actress Lupita Nyong'o. Patsey was known by her master as Queen of the Field because she could pick 500lbs of cotton a day. She was a tortured soul and only 23 years old {per Northup's documentation}. It makes my heart glad that this slave who was treated so brutally and only praised for her labor is now known of by people all over the world. Epps nor the mistress could not stop the power of the written word.

Patsey you made it. Slavery did not keep you bound. That evil institution did not keep your story from us. Northup gave you your freedom by writing your story. You are more than the Queen of the Field you are the Queen of our Hearts. I will never forget you.

Another remarkable woman of this narrative was the slave, Celeste. Her cunningness was inspiring. She evaded the dogs. They refused to follow her tracks. Knowing something about the area that Northup writes from, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, I can only speculate that Celeste may have dabbled in "roots." She ran away and stayed in the woods for months. When the terror from the beasts of the swamps overwhelmed her she returned to her master. He fastened her neck in stocks and sent her back to the fields.

Celeste your spirit of courage and determination was not lost. Other women put it on such as Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer. The stocks did not bind your spirit you found us.

Personally, I think the only thing Solomon Northup had to get him through those twelve years was his music. Had he not gotten to play and travel to play I believe slavery would have stolen him from his family and us forever.… (more)
LibraryThing member GarySims
This is a very old story... a plague from throughout human history. Even though Solomon is revealing his personal story from a 160 years ago, it is as fresh as if it happened today. Why? Because it still is happening today. Human trafficking is a blight on humanity... not only on those who participate but on those who are not outraged enough to do something about it. If you read this book and then continue to ignore the plight of sex-slave victims in your own town, state, country, and world, you are as guilty as those who pick up the whip and flail the backs of the down-troddened and victimized women and children every day. Read this book and then become an advocate for the poor and defenseless until this blight is removed.… (more)
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Solomon Northup, a free man all his life, was kidnapped and sold into slavery, being transported to the deep South of Louisiana's rural bayous. He recounts his twelve years of forced servitude, 10 years of which were under the cruel master Edwin Epps, and his eventual rescue.

I confess I had never heard of Northup, his plight, or his book until the recent movie was released. I had no interest in viewing the movie as I felt it would be too intense - both with the violence and the emotion. However, when the book came up as a choice for my book club, I was happy to vote for it and am glad to have done so now that I've read it. While there is certainly detestable violence and other situations that evoke strong emotions, the book allowed some distance that I feel a movie would not.

Northup writes his account in a manner I found very effective. Although he had every reason to be outraged by his lot in life, he managed to write in a very reasoned tone and factual way. He lays out the account with a great deal of circumspect, making sure to describe only those things he was absolutely certain of and to make note of when he was simply making a supposition. He generally asked - sometimes directly - the reader to make his or her own opinions based on what he was reporting. Northup also makes great allowances for many of the slave owners of his acquaintance, noting how the culture they grew up in allowed them to be otherwise good people who were blinded to how the institution of slavery was an inhumane system. He elegantly says:
"It is not the fault of the slaveholder ... so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears ... he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years. 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."
This kind of forgiveness shows just how kind and educated a person Northup was and makes it all the more potent when he describes someone like Epps as savage and brutal; we know that Solomon is not choosing his words lightly when he defines his master as such.

As an outsider to the institution of slavery until he was forced into it and as a Northerner by birth, Northup spends some time describing various things about his life in Louisiana, including the climate, the planting and picking of cotton, etc. Given that this was written long before the days of Google, let alone easy travel, it is perfectly logically that he should describe such minutiae to people who would be unfamiliar with it. Some modern readers may find this level of detail off-putting, but I appreciated that he took the time to describe everything so that it gave a very clear picture. The book also contains appendices including legal documents regarding how Solomon was eventually rescued from slavery through a legislative act of New York State.

All in all, this was a very interesting read about a sad and dark chapter of one man's life - and one country's history. I'd very much recommend this book to anyone interested in U.S. history in general or African-American history.
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LibraryThing member creighley
Solomon Northup, a free black living in the free state of New York, was kidnapped and sold into slavery where he barely survived brutal and inhuman treatment at he hands go his "owner." The horrific conditions of the slaves and their oppression are aptly told with clarity and without exaggeration.
LibraryThing member AdrianSamuels
I saw the film first, which rather colours ones view somewhat. But both are great in different ways.
I still cannot get over the fact that this intense barbarity went on only 150 years ago.
LibraryThing member Amusedbythis
This is a very powerful memoir of a free man who is sold into slavery in the South. It is a very moving telling of the horrors of slavery.
LibraryThing member ursula
Solomon Northup was a free black man living in New York state during the slave era. Married with a family, he is looking for extra work when he encounters a couple of men who say they've heard he plays a mean fiddle (he does), and wonder if he'd like to earn some money. He would, so he accompanies them to Washington DC without even letting his wife know, since she's also out of town at the moment. The evening they arrive he seems to be drugged by someone, whether that's the men he was traveling with or someone else, he's not sure. He awakens chained to the floor, and ultimately ends up being transported to Louisiana and sold as a slave. Solomon learns quickly that mentioning his status as a free man is not going to gain him anything but beatings, so he keeps his head down, watching and waiting for an opportunity to make contact with home and someone who can help him. From the title, we know it's not going to happen too soon.

The events in the book are no worse than any other account of slavery, but I suppose some may find them more poignant by virtue of being told from the point of view of someone who started out as a free American. I found Solomon's predicament interesting, but I was always mindful that his experience was similar to that of many others who didn't have the ability to read and write to tell their stories, and who didn't have anyone to appeal to for their freedom. But he did what he could at the time, which is to get the hell out of slave states, and to tell the tale. Northup tells of both good and bad masters, not vilifying all white men in the south for their participation in slavery, but instead evaluating them as individuals. Considering the circumstances under which he got to know these men, it's remarkable that he was able to be so even-handed.

The writing was simple and conversational, and the audio version (read by Lou Gossett, Jr.) was the perfect format to add immediacy to the experience.
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LibraryThing member beckyhaase
12 YEARS A SLAVE by Solomon Northup

I never thought I would say this but …. Go see the movie. The story is important but the book is ponderous. The writing is old fashioned enough to make it difficult for the modern reader. I was glad I read this on my e-reader so I could easily look up all the many “archaic” words. The punctuation also forces the reader to slow down and re-read portions to understand what is being said in this autobiography.
The book relates the experiences of a free black man who is kidnapped by slavers in Washington, DC and taken to Louisiana where he is sold into slavery. It takes 12 long years for him to be found, released from bondage and returned to wife and children. He suffers under both cruel and mild masters as he shares life with other bound persons. Northup also relates the stories of other persons he suffers with. You will feel Patsey’s pain as she is whipped into submission and suffer with Elisa as her small children are wrenched from her and sold away never to be seen again.
This biography needs to be told. Perhaps another writer will make the story come alive for the modern reader.
3 of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member TerriBooks
I expected a book written 160 years ago to have a much more dated style, but this one sounds surprisingly contemporary. The voice of the author, narrating his own experience, is real and natural, opening up a perspective to a horrible part of our history. It is fascinating and believable.
LibraryThing member lamour
Born a freeman in New York State in 1808, married with three children, Soloman was offered a short term job in Washington, DC to play his violin at a circus. However, he was drugged and shipped to Louisiana as a slave. For 12 years he worked on several plantations on the Red River recording names, places and conditions in his head all the while trying to find some way to communicate his whereabouts to his family and friends in New York.

Eventually a Canadian working as a handyman in the area who had shown strong views about the injustice of slavery mailed a letter home for him which resulted in the Governor of New York sending an agent to Louisiana to free him.

I had thought that this would be a difficult read because it was written in the 1850`s but I was pleasantly surprised to find Solomon was an excellent writer and his narrative flowed along quickly. As with any book that describes slavery or injustice to fellow humans such as the Holocaust, one wonders at man`s ability to mistreat his fellow human beings. In the case of slavery in the southern USA, it is how white religious men & woman justified it with the Bible that always rankles me.
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LibraryThing member jimrgill
It’s quite tempting to call “Twelve Years a Slave” an overlooked or rediscovered classic, since it fell into obscurity after its initial success upon publication in 1853 and was pretty much forgotten until 1968, when a couple of historians decided to examine its accuracy. I suspect, however, that its neglect by the general public (and literary and historical scholars) has more to do with its author and its truth. Considering that Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (a fictional tale of slavery written by a white woman)—which was published just a year before Northrup’s autobiographical account of his abduction and forced bondage—has remained a canonical part of 19th century American literature, one wonders whether Northrup’s tale was perhaps less palatable to the literary and historical community because of its authenticity.

Although the book contains disturbing depictions of whippings, detailed accounts of a slave’s day laboring in the cotton fields or the sugar mill, and the overall miserable living conditions of slaves—along with honest portrayals of unmitigated sadism committed by white men and women—Northrup does not embellish these accounts or depict them as outlandishly gruesome and brutal (though they no doubt were). His tone is almost demure and understated throughout—his dignity and sense of propriety triumphs over any vengeance or bitterness he undoubtedly felt.

Reading Northrup’s memoir alongside Stowe’s novel would, I suspect, yield some valuable insights regarding the power of both genres in terms of narrative art and historiography.
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LibraryThing member Glorybe1
A heartbreaking account of Soloman Nothup's kidnapping. How he was taken from his family, being a free man and forced into bondage for 12 years. The worse for it being a true story! How heartless owners whipped and used him to within an inch of his life, just because he was a black man!
A brilliant read, written in language that is evocative of the times. The book on which the film of the same name was based… (more)

Publication

The Project Gutenberg

Language

Original publication date

1853
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