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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Review: "Twelve Years a Slave", written by Solomon Northup
By Milton M. Gross
Dec 15, 2013 - 12:05:32 AM

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Twelve Years a Slave is a book, telling a truly horrible story, which every American should read. It fills out the "barely mention" of slavery in many traditional American histories. Slavery is an awful part of America's history, and every American should know about it. Milt Gross photo.
Northup wrote the book in 1858 after being rescued from slavery in 1853.

Northup was a free black man in New York State until he was tricked and kidnapped in 1841, before the Civil War partly by accident freed all slaves and subjected them to the horrors of the years following.

I found the book much more complete and detailed as to the facts of Northup's unbelievably terrible experience than the movie. It made me almost ashamed of our country's historical track record. No, we're not the good guys who created a free nation as a tribute to our God.

This book was published not long after Uncle Tom's Cabin was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Whose Name," according to a comment on an inside page of this book, "Throughout the World, Is Identified with the Great Reform: This Narrative, Affording Another Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Is Respectfully Dedicated."

It was this year, November 1913, republished by Solomon

Northup & Earl Edwards, and printed in Lexington, KY. No details are given as to how this republishing actually happened.

In Washington, D.C., Northup was sold on the slave auctioner's block in 1841 and spent most of his years as a slave in Louisiana. When he tried to tell his assailants that he was actually a free New York State resident with a farm and family, he was beaten into silence. From that point until just before his release, Northup kept his background to himself in order to survive.

The book tells of the deplorable conditions in which he and actual slaves were kept and treated as property, really horrible treatment with one owner being a "Christian" minister who each Sunday gathered his slaves to his porch and preached to them. The story tells of his escape and flight in bog and jungle-like forest, threatened by a variety of Louisiana wildlife, and finally returned to captivity. It tells of beatings, insults, that happened to him and those slaves around him.

I saw a picture of a horse and carriage on TV a few nights ago, and the reality struck me that the horse was no more free than were slaves. Slaves, people, were owned and treated well or mistreated by whites.

The story finally tells of a white man, who stayed a short while on the plantation and who wrote letters for Northup that eventually found their way to his wife and children. Another Northup, Henry, an attorney in New York State, eventually brought about his release and homecoming.

A feature of the book was the inclusion of accounts of interviews of six other former slaves, the date of two being 1935 and 1949. From these interviews, one catches a glimpse of their lives. Not directly about Northup's story or slavery itself, the accounts still are truthful and gripping.

A book every American ought to read. I bought my paperback copy from for $14.99. The Kindle version is $2.99, and a hardcopy version was to have been on the market by Dec. 17. I haven't seen a hardcopy advertised.

The 1984 movie, the DVD form we rented from Netflix, features Avery Brooks as Northup with other cast being Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Mason Adams, Joe Senaca, Michael Tolan, Lee Bryant, and Petronia Paley and the director being Gordon Parks.

I found the movie to be a very rough version of the events covered in the book with an emphasis apparently on the dramatic, romance, and violence. The emphasis on these three to me overshadowed much of the actual story, as told in the book, and actually omitted much of what the book covers. The price is $12.99.

I repeat, every American should read the book. The movie is more of a dramatization with its highlight I felt being the scenes at the end when Solomon Northup is returned by coach to his New York State home and family.

A sad tale about a true part of our nation's history.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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