Saturday, November 9, 2013


I’ve neglected my OpEd page for the last few weeks, but I’ve been on a rewarding binge of book reading: Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northrup; The Compatibility Gene, Daniel M. Davis; To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild; The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout; and The Nose, Nikolai Gogol. They were all worth the time, though not equally rewarding.

I’ll comment briefly on the first today and get to the second, the  gene story, later on.

Having read Twelve Years, I have now seen the movie as well. The book is remarkable. Northrup describes his experiences, his deepest emotions and reflections in the struggle to survive his captivity into slavery. Still, his dignity is never surrendered. His powers of observation are not dulled by whippings, acts of barbarism and humiliation. What survives his 12 years, and is recounted in his book, is a deep understanding of all aspects of the slave system and its impact on the human beings who inhabited that world. He understands people, differences in experience and reactions among those enslaved and among “masters” and families brutalized and corrupted by slavery.

The book’s depth and authenticity rank it in my opinion with Frederick Douglass’s narrative of his life as a slave. The movie is a noble achievement, but there’s no way the richness of Northrup’s account can be captured in a couple of hours of a movie. The movie should be seen by millions of Americans. Some will avoid it because they don’t recognize the great weight of slavery on our history and its impact on present-day economics, politics and so many, many lives. Others may think to avoid it because watching scenes of brutality is terribly difficult. But even if you close your eyes involuntarily from time to time, don’t allow yourself to miss out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Leon. You are correct that some of us find the prospect of watching man's inhumanity to man "up close and personal" as a film shows it is too horrible to contemplate. We know of the horrors intellectually and that is all we can face.
    - Sally