As much as his first master had been kind, Platt’s second master was cruel, as was his third and last. John Tibeats had almost killed Platt because Platt dared to stand up to his rage. Edwin Epps alternated between anger and drunkenness, and ran his small plantation with a handful of slaves and regular whippings. Platt tried to escape once, but returned to his master’s plantation for safety.

For 12 years, Platt kept quiet, his eyes open for a real opportunity to flee and return home to his wife and children. For a dozen years, he endured 20-hour workdays, meager rations, and daily beatings.

And then he met the man who put into motion events that would save his life.

Get a dozen pages into “Twelve Years a Slave,” and you could be forgiven for forgetting that this isn’t a novel. It surely reads like one—that is, until author Solomon Northup slams us into reality. We read statements such as that Epps couldn’t let Northup die because it would’ve meant “the death of an animal worth a thousand dollars,” or that another slave hoped “his master would buy me” — thus reminding us, and not gently, that this book is a memoir.

And yet, despite that brutality, Northup exhibits a sense of sly humor here. He comments on the absurd to the point that you can almost hear his eyes rolling from 1853, the year this book was originally published.

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