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.