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Rowena's Reviews

My true loves: Wilkie Collins, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anais Nin, George Eliot, James Joyce, James Baldwin, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, bell hooks, Chinua Achebe, Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare... I'm falling for : Italo Calvino, Toni Morrison, Frantz Fanon, Wole Soyinka, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Albert Camus, Margaret Atwood, Somerset Maugham, Junot Diaz, A.S. Byatt... And the lists continue to grow! I will read almost anything, as long as it's well-written. I always love to expand my reading horizons.

Currently reading

Orientalism
Edward W. Said
Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Finnegans Wake (Trade Paperback)
James Joyce

Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave - Solomon Northup

“Now had I approached within the shadow of the cloud, into the thick darkness whereof I was soon to disappear, thenceforward to be hidden from the eyes of all my kindred, and shut out from the sweet light of liberty for many a weary year.”

I’m embarrassed to say  I had no idea that this was a true story. I find it odd that I’d never heard of this particular slave narrative, given how powerful and informative it is.  I decided to read it after all the media frenzy surrounding the movie (which I haven’t watched and probably won’t).

This narrative was written by Solomon Northrup, a freeman kidnapped from the North, and  taken to a work on a plantation in Louisiana, where he lived for 12 years until he was rescued.  The whole account was very detailed; we are given names, dates and so on. There are also graphic depictions of violence and plenty of sadness and grief.

The more  stories about slavery that I read, the more I realize what a diversity in stories and experiences exist. There are always common themes though: the brutality of the slavedrivers who don’t get their comeuppance, for one,  and the injustice of the whole system too. The fact that the slaves were treated as less than animals is something that makes these kinds of stories difficult to read.

I was expecting to be more affected by the  pain and violence that I knew slaves experienced at the hands of their masters. However, I found myself more affected by the psychological pain that they had to endure. Coincidentally, I just read a poem by African-Canadian poet Dwayne Morgan entitled “The Academy Awards” which goes:

“And you don’t know the psychological

And spiritual trauma,

Of constantly having to justify your existence,

Your location and your presence.”

I  felt quite ignorant about American history while reading this narrative; I was unaware that there was a time when some blacks were free while others were enslaved.

As difficult as it is for me to read anything related to slavery I believe it is important for stories like this one to be heard. I’m in awe at how much resilience African-American slaves showed.