It is astonishing to this reader that Solomon Northrop’s narrative TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE lay silent in literary archives for over 100 years. Each compelling paragraph cries out to be voiced and has not lost one syllable over the decades, as indicted in the book’s dedication to Harriet Beecher Stowe whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin is throughout the world, identified with the reform of slavery.
I have seen the Oscar-winning motion picture but if you have not I urge you to read the book first. No film could begin to capture the depth and emotion evoked in the 336 pages of this personal narrative. By reading the book, the movie will become enormously more meaningful because it fills in all of the subtleties that could not possibly be accomplished by directors and editors.
“The institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel,unjust and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life but let them toil with him in the field, sleep with him in the cabin, feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. ” Northrup’s narrative describes how the ” institution ” passed from father to son. ” Mounted on his pony the 12-year-old child rides into the field with his whip playing the overseer , greatly to the father’s delight. Without discrimination he applies the rawhide, urging the slaves forward with shouts, while the old man laughs and commends him as a thorough-going boy.’
Solomon Northrup , in his own words: ” This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture.Those who read this book may form their own opinions of this peculiar institution.”
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, the book and the movie combine to make a powerful testament to one of the darkest periods in American history.
When I read Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle I believed that I had read the ultimate survival story of an adolescent growing up in a completely dysfunctional family. Survival is the word that continues to come to mind when reflecting on Walls’ wonderful book that since its publication in 2005, continues to be a best seller. See gordonsgoodreads.com
That preamble leads me to the discovery in my library of a volume which must have been left over from one of my children’s required reading lists, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life.
First published in 1989, this memoir is another detailed account of a youngster’s struggle to survive under the most bazaar family circumstances. Toby’s mother, just like Jeannette Walls’, is a nomad, seeking a better life and fortune , always where the grass may be greener. Unlike Walls’ , Toby’s mother leaves his father and moves from man to man finally ending up in rural Washington living with a despicable and violent drunk. Each chapter will make the reader into a believer of the survival tactics that children adopt to conquer insurmountable obstacles.
If this memoir has escaped your reading list, don’t delay. After you have read the book you may wish to Netflix the highly acclaimed 1993 movie This Boy’s Life starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.
Tobias’ brother Geoffrey who stayed his father in Connecticut, had a very different upbringing from Toby ( Choate/Princeton). He is an important character in This Boy’s Life . He also became an author having written among other novels Duke of Deception in 1979 and The Age of Consent in 1995.
This Boy’s Life ends with Toby leaving ,or better said in the context of the memoir, escaping for the war in Vietnam. His experiences are detailed in his second memoir Pharaoh’s Army, Memoirs of the Lost War.
You may notice in the Sunday New York Times Book Section that there are two important new categories of Best Sellers, Fiction Print and Electronic and Non-Fiction Print and Electronic.
According to the Times, the new rankings reflect weekly sales for books sold in both print and electronic formats as reported by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. The sales venues for print books include independent book retailers; national, regional and local chains; online and multimedia entertainment retailers; university, gift, supermarket and discount department stores; and newsstands. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats.
Popping off the page of Non Fiction Print and Electronic, this Sunday, February 20, 2011, ranked at number 11, is the 2005 memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls! This is a new world of reporting who is reading what and when. It is the essence of Gordon’s Good Reads’ philosophy that people like to discover wonderful books that they may have overlooked.
If you have not read The Glass Castle, first published in 2005, I urge you to do so. You will find this memoir of survival in a very dysfunctional family astonishing and nearly unbelievable.
A suggestion. Why not read Walls’ second book about her family first? Half Broke Horses, published in 2009, a true-life novel, is the story of Walls’ no nonsense and resourceful grandmother Lilly Casey Smith. By doing, so you will learn from who Jeannette Walls received her grit, allowing her to survive The Glass Castle. It is every bit as captivating. and wonderfully written.