Review: 12 Years A Slave

by Itisha Niranjan Baxi on July 11, 2014

12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup
Author: Solomon Northup
Publisher: Pirates
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788192681023
Rating: ★★★★☆
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12 Years A Slave started filling the bestseller line in almost all bookstores, having gained widespread acclaim due to the award winning success of its movie adaption. Movies based on books inadvertently bring out the need for comparison where, almost unfailingly, the books gain the upper hand. Amazingly enough, this time the movie topped the book!

The book portrays the tale of a ‘free black man’ that will make your heart bleed for him. The story is of Solomon, from the state of New York, who got kidnapped in Washington and was sold into slavery and the horror that ensues for the next twelve years. Coming from an audaciously independent breeding, with no sense of bondage, Solomon falls into the abyss of slavery with no respite in sight.

The book goes through various philosophies and emotions. How the loss of a friend and hope can make life that much more worthless. How love commands respect and how the owners who treat their slaves with even a modicum of compassion get better output. And the extent to which the fight for survival changes a person. The story also has a poignant reminder of how even the most kind hearted and well meaning are suppressed by societal influence, and how music can inculcate companionship. The protagonist is in a place in his life where humans feel more dangerous than hounds, snakes or alligators. Despite the end being known, one would still want to go through the whole book because it contains such heart wrenching comparisons that one cannot help but sympathize with the protagonist for the hardships endured.

There is a lot of literature on this subject, but this book comes forth with a different understanding, which has not been explored by any other artist in any other medium. The story of Solomon Northup highlights the difference between being born into slavery and being pushed into it. There is no question that the plight suffered by slaves is the same, regardless of where they come from, but the quintessential difference is how a person reacts and adapts to it. The author also expresses extreme indignation towards whites who assume they know the plight of slaves.

The book had an interesting and gripping storyline, but shifted its perspective a lot. The slow progression of events and unnecessary details that had nothing to do with the story made it mind numbing at times. But one has to remember that this is not a piece of sophisticated literature; this an account of a person, who put it in the best way that he could – the story of his life with horrors many of us could never imagine.

The abovementioned lacunas are where the movie trumps the book; it does away with the inessential description and irrelevant plot lines and makes it real. The brilliant use of cinematography and the contrast in music to emphasize the conflicting emotions prevalent in a scene made it that much more hard-hitting. The movie tugs at your heartstrings in a way the book couldn’t.

Want to explore the books vs movies connection a bit more? Go no further than our Talkies or Text? comparison of Wuthering Heights

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