Twelve Years a Slave

So I know it’s been just a few moments, er, months, since I’ve posted on my poor neglected blog. I needed something to get me writing again, and Aarti’s #Diversiverse event is just the thing. Basically, this is a two week event to get people reading and blogging about diverse books. What does that mean? Here’s Aarti’s take:

Reading diversely is important because we live in a global world.  Period.  If you read books only by white authors, you are limiting yourself to less than 30% of the world’s experience of race and culture.  If you read books only by Christian authors, you are limiting yourself to only about 33% of the world’s experience of theology.  If you read books only by authors in developed countries, you are limiting yourself to a very privileged view of what the world has to offer you.  If you read books that focus only on Western thought, history, and philosophy, you are missing out on many rich and varied traditions and worldviews that have informed and continue to enrich the way we view the world today.”

I tend to read diversely, and I want to make sure I’m blogging about more underrepresented books and authors. It’s important to me, and it’s one of the reasons I originally started this blog.

Without further ado, my first review for #Diversiverse:

Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northrup

Book cover for Twelve Years a Slave showing a drawing of a slave man sitting on a wooden box

This slave narrative has recently come to popular attention through the movie based on it. My nerdy, bookish self decided to read the book, of course.

It is a compelling story of a young free black man kidnapped from New York and sold into slavery. Solomon Northrup is fortunate in some ways  – he is in relatively good health, he’s literate, he has a violin that he can play for some money. These assets are a help to him as he survices his long, arduous ordeal. On the other hand, he is wholly unaccustomed to being enslaved, and does not always know right away how a slave is to act. He endures an incredible beating early in his captivity when a slave dealer  hears him talking about being entitled to his freedom.

Northrup recounts the names and biographical details of many of the people he encounters in his twelve years of bondage. For many of his fellow slaves, his tell is likely the only record of who they are as human beings, not just notations in a plantation’s accounting ledger or a slave ship’s manifest.

Want more like this? Try:

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs. If you were interested in Patsy from Twelve Years a Slave, this narrative could give you more insight about what her story may have been like.
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison. Fiction, but explores the lengths to which a person might go to avoid being wrenched away from their freedom, back to bondage.
  • The Hanging of Angelique, Afua Cooper. Canada was not the idyllic refuge from slavery my high school history class told me it was.
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4 thoughts on “Twelve Years a Slave

  1. Thanks for participating in the challenge! I have seen this movie but have not read the book. Your point above really hit home for me – that Northrup mentions people he encountered over 12 years that would probably have been lost to history otherwise, or barely named at all in the ledger books.

    • I was struck by how many people and their personal details he remembered, especially since he was going through such a personal trying time. There’s no way I’d remember everyone’s names and detailed pieces of their stories.

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