Tag Archives: Slavery

Review: Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave
By Solomon Northup
(Graymalkin Media, Paperback, 9781631680021, February 2014, 248pp.)

The Short of It:

A true account of a free black man, kidnapped and forced into slavery.

The Rest of It:

While in Washington, D.C. on a business trip in the mid-1800’s, Solomon Northup was kidnapped and forced to be a slave for what became twelve long years. His story, as told to David Wilson, is shared here in this memoir.

Many of you may have seen the movie, which received several Oscar nods but as with most books made into movies, I am always interested in reading the book first, whenever possible so I have yet to see the movie myself. The book, although short, gives you just enough of the horrors of what he went through as a slave and it will make you angry. His relationships with the other slaves is the one saving grace. But the frustration over his situation is felt throughout his story and the worry and fear about his family is very compelling.

In one sense, it’s hard to believe that such a thing could happen and for so long, but his twelve years as a slave is riddled with pain, worry and fear over what will become of him. He encounters many slave owners during this time and although most of them are easy to anger and will stop at nothing when it comes to a delivering a good beating, there are others who treat their slaves as people, with the respect and dignity of an owner who appreciates hard work.

The story itself is very compelling and yes, unbelievable at times but the delivery of the story seemed a little formal to me. The language used to tell the story is very formal and dare I say it, somewhat cold and clinical. It’s as if this story was told to me at arm’s length, in a detached sort of way which of course took me out of the narrative many times. It’s very short, yet felt much longer than it should have. Perhaps the formality of it all added to this.

This was the September selection for my book club, chosen by me and of course that is the one meeting I had to miss due to back to school night, so I really don’t know what the others felt or how it compared to the movie. Will I see the movie? I had planned to prior to reading the book but now, I am not so sure.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

Source: Borrowed
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Review: Wench


By Dolen Perkins-Valdez
(Amistad, Paperback, 9780061706561, February 2011, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

With sharp, clean prose, Perkins-Valdez delivers a story that’s sometimes tragic, at times hopeful and thoroughly compelling.

The Rest of It:

wench \’wench\ n. from Middle English “wenchel,” 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

It’s a little known fact, but back in the mid-1800’s, there was a resort in Ohio called Tawawa House. It was a summer resort, frequented by slave owners and their slave mistresses. When Perkins-Valdez learned of this, she was amazed that such a place existed. Intrigued by the idea, she crafted a tale about four women, all friends, and how their roles as mistresses were not always clear-cut.

This is Lizzie’s story. Drayle purchased her as a young girl. Gave her books, treated her as if she mattered and as she grew into a young woman, her love of Drayle grew as well.  It doesn’t matter that he is married to Fran. Lizzie knows that he holds a special place in his heart for her and when she gives him the children that Fran can’t, she feels that her position in the house is secure.

To confirm this, Drayle takes her to Tawana House each summer. There, they sleep in the same room. She cooks for him, cleans for him, yet in her head, she is the one he loves. At first, she is happy playing this role, but as she becomes close friends with the other women, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu, she begins to question her importance and as her own children get older, she is often reminded that they are in fact, slaves.

This is a wonderful, complex story about a slave and her white master but it’s also a story about friendship. It’s difficult to understand how a slave could ever love her master, but to Lizzie, Drayle is everything to her. And although she knows she is tied to him because of the children, she really can’t imagine life any other way.

Lizzie’s story is tragic, because as a reader you can clearly see the master/slave lines but Lizzie can’t. Not at first. But somehow, I wasn’t frustrated with Lizzie. I wanted her to make different choices, sure, but I didn’t fault her for the ones she made. What’s strange is that I felt sorry for Fran as well.  She knows full well what is going on in her house, but she doesn’t have the power to do much about it. Oh yes, she tries, but she too, learns a thing or two in the end.

I’ve read a few books dealing with slave/master relations, but none of them were quite like this one. This story was unique and it left me thinking about things long after I finished it. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed

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