'Twelve Years A Slave'

book cover of twelve years a slaveIn the canon of American Slave Narratives, we have a few staples, such as those of Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano and Harriet Jacobs. There are many more which are considered obscure. Twelve Years a Slave; Solomon Northup is one such. First published in 1838, today it is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

This title chronicles the kidnapping and rescue of Northup -- a hardworking Free Man, carpenter and talented violinist from New York City -- and his family by slave traders posing as circus entertainers in search of help to bolster their "act." By way of Washington, D.C., where Northup finds himself in a 'slave pen' within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol and among other kidnapped Free Men, Women and Children, he is transported to Louisiana and sold to a particularly cruel master, Edward Epps.

The depravity of Northup's barbaric captivity, encompassing beatings, rape and psychological abuse can best be described by the effect it has upon not the slave but the slave master:

"The existence of slavery in its most cruel form among them has a tendency to brutalize the humane and finer feelings of their nature," Northrop writes. "Daily witnesses of human suffering -- listening to the agonizing screeches of the slave -- beholding him writhing beneath the merciless lash-bitten and torn by dogs -- dying without attention, and buried without shroud or coffin -- it cannot otherwise be expected, than that they should become brutified and reckless of human life." 

As Northup is helped to freedom by a benevolent Canadian, the book winds to an end in which he is reunited with his wife and children whom he has not seen for the past decade. It is a bitter end that justice was not served to those carried out such a despicable crime, but then, it was a sign of the times. Twelve Years A Slave was a true page turner that I did not put down over the two days I read it.

This truth really is stranger than fiction.