Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, abridged by Robin Brooks

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Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 24-28 February 2014
A timely broadcast of Solomon Northup's 1853 novel, in the week leading up to the Oscars (where Steve McQueen's adaptation won Best Film).
Read by Rhashan Stone, the novel records Northup's experiences of being captured and living as a slave in Louisiana, despite being a free man.  The style is simple yet powerful: Northup is not shy of recounting - often in graphic detail - about the sadistic ways in which both he and his fellow African-Americans were brutally treated by their white masters.  Sometimes it seemed as if the whites deliberately set out to humiliate their slaves, as if frightened of what might happen if they were not kept under the cosh.
Northup himself emerges as someone determined to preserve his self-respect at all costs.  Even when he is subject to terrible beatings - and thereby deprived of all his humanity - he remains stoic as well as determined.  Sometimes he has to perform acts of unbearable humiliation - on one occasion Epps, one of his slave-masters, forces him to whip a fellow-slave in full view of everyone.  Mostly Northup does as he is told; but there are occasions when he fights back, even though well aware of the violent consequences that might ensue.
Rhashan Stone's voice was both intimate yet dignified, letting listeners into his confidence yet remaining conscious of his responsibility to tell Northup's story in as graphic a way as possible.  This was one of the best Book of the Week strands I've heard in recent months.  The producer was Kirsteen Cameron.