July Book Review

12 Years a Slave

This month’s review
is by Richard Bellikoff
12 Years a Slave: A True Story of Betrayal, Kidnap and Slavery
by Solomon Northup

12 Years a Slave: A True Story of Betrayal, Kidnap and Slavery by Solomon Northup

Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” There’s no suggestion that Lincoln ever read Solomon Northup’s account of his ordeal as a free man from New York who was enslaved for 12 years on the plantations of Louisiana. Northup dispels the historically revisionist notion of slavery as a benign and paternalistic institution that civilized the heathen Africans. As he makes clear, slaves were chattel, bought and sold like real estate, using financial instruments like loans and mortgages, and subjected to frequent whipping, beating and lynching. Plantation livestock received better treatment. Unlike Stowe’s omniscient narrator, Northup recounts only what he experienced and witnessed. That’s quite enough to make the case for abolition. The movie version, available at the Library on DVD, presents the appalling horror of slavery in living color, with period dialogue supplied by Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley. Lincoln couldn’t see it, but you should.

CALL # STATUS: 306.362 NORTHUP