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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Soloman Northup - Twelve years a Slave

Review written by Brian Lowen and read live on the bookshow 8th May 2014
This rather unusual book is written almost in diary form by the author who was the person involved in the title. It is written in the language appertaining at that time which was in the mid eighteen hundreds in America. It is still easy to follow though.

The slave market was very vibrant at this time in the southern states and only read this book if you think you can stand the brutality of the white plantation owners to their black slaves.

Soloman, although coloured, was a free man and living in New York State with his wife and three children. He worked on a variety of jobs and was a skilful carpenter. He was also a good violinist and it was this talent that led to his downfall.

He is enticed away to play for a soiree in Washington but is drugged and shipped down south. Although he keeps saying he is a free man, it is no use as his papers have been stolen and he is soundly whipped with the threat of more to come if he keeps on saying he is a free man.

He is sold in a slave market in New Orleans where his name is changed to Platt. He starts work on a plantation but due to his woodworking skills he is sold on to a vicious man called Tibeat as his slave. He survives several beatings before being sold on when Tibeat goes bankrupt, to a cotton plantation owned by Mr Epps,

another vicious man with an equally nasty wife who treats all his slaves as animals or worse. The only possession given to a slave is a blanket, everything else they want, like utensils, crockery, clothing they have to earn by working overtime, usually on a Sunday. They live in little cabins, with just a board to sleep on and work from daybreak to dusk growing and picking the cotton in the fields. They are given two meals per day of bacon and corn, and get regular whippings for the slightest thing.

Soloman worked for Epps for 10 years. One year when the caterpillars ate all the cotton they were hired out to another plantation growing sugar cane where the conditions were slightly better, but this only lasted for one summer.

He tries several times to escape but is always unsuccessful. Finally he meets a white man who is against slavery and he is able to have a private conversation with him at midnight when he explains that he is a free man with a wife and family and he gives him several names and addresses to contact.

Eventually his cousin travels south, armed with the necessary papers to free him from slavery.

An interesting book that makes you wince at the harsh treatment metered out to the slaves in the southern states, and you wonder how they managed to survive all the terrible beatings inflicted on them.

Not for the faint hearted this book.

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