Solomon Northup's slave narrative follows in the line of scores of other enlightening first-hand accounts of African American enslavement. What makes Northrup's account so unique is the fact that he was free when kidnapped and enslaved.
His harrowing description of his kidnapping in Washington, D. C., and of his fellow kidnappees, will melt the hardest heart. Yet, his interactions with other abducted African Americans also portrays the beauty and power of shared sorrow.
Another fascinating distinction found in "Twelve Years a Slave" is Northrup's almost uncanny ability to fairly depict his slave owners. In some cases, he ruthlessly exposes the one-dimensional ruthlessness of cruel masters. Yet, in one case, with his owner Pastor Ford (yes, Pastor), he calls Ford one of the most godly, caring, Christians he has ever known. He describes the biblical preaching and personal ministry that Ford provided to him. It is difficult for us today to see how the hypocrisy of a slave-owning Pastor could occur. But for Northrup, an intelligent, educated, articulate man, who could be blistering in his verbal attack on slavers, Ford was not a one-dimensional man. He was flawed, yet could still display admirable attributes.
"Twelve Years a Slave" is perhaps the most important first-hand account of enslavement ever written. The end of the story, which I will not ruin, must be read. Of course, with riveting writing like this, only the rare reader would dare stop before the end of the journey.
Reviwer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction , Soul Physicians, and Spiritual Friends.