Book Reviews – March

12 Years A Slave
Solomon Northup
Penguin Books

Now a major motion picture directed by Steve McQueen. It is a compelling read. Hard working Solomon Northup, an educated free man of color in 1841, enjoys family life with his wife and three children in Saratoga, New York. He delights his community with his fiddle playing and antic spirit, and has positive expectations of all he meets. When he is deceived by “circus promoters” to accompany them to a musical gig in the nation’s capital, his joyful life takes an unimaginable turn. He awakens in shackles to find he has been drugged, kidnapped and bound for the slave block in D.C.

After Solomon is shipped a thousand miles to New Orleans, he is assigned his slave name and quickly learns that the mere utterance of his true origin or rights as a freeman are certain to bring severe punishment or death. While he endures the brutal life of a slave in Louisiana’s isolated Bayou Boeuf plantation country, he must learn how to play the system and plot his escape home.

For 12 years, his fine mind captures the reality of slavery in stunning detail, as we learn about the characters that populate plantation society and the intrigues of the bayou – from the collapse of a slave rebellion resulting in mass hangings due to traitorous slave Lew Cheney, to the tragic end of his friend Patsey because of Mrs. Epps’ jealously of her husband’s sexual exploitation of his pretty young slave.

When Solomon finally finds a sympathizing friend who risks his life to secret a letter to the North, a courageous rescue attempt ensues that could either compound Solomon’s suffering, or get him back to the arms of his family.

The Railwayman
Eric Lomax
Vintage

The Railway Man is an autobiographical novel by Eric Lomax about his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II and being forced to help build the Burma Railway for the Japanese military. Lomax was captured when the Japanese conquered Singapore. At first, the Japanese are unable to efficiently control the large number of Allied prisoners they captured when Singapore fell, but as the prisoners are dispersed into smaller camps, Lomax is horribly tortured and forced to cooperate. He is psychologically damaged by his treatment, and after the war suffers from severe psychological problems, which he is only partially successful at hiding. He eventually seeks treatment. He goes back to Thailand to visit the camps where he was a prisoner, and then travels to Japan to find a Japanese officer, Nagase, who was especially cruel to him. After discovering that Nagase has spent his life trying to make amends for his actions during the war, Lomax is able, if not to forgive him, to let go of his anger and hatred.

It has been adapted into a film which was directed by Jonathan Teplitzky and stars Colin Firth (as Lomax).

A compelling read although harrowing in places.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Jordan Belfort
Hodder

The Wolf of Wall Street is a novel of multiple of extremes. The further you are in this, the more you will begin to understand that there are no mediums. Only extremes. Jordan Belfort manages to relate his life as an entrepreneur and the events that took place to the behaviour and events of the stock market. It starts off strong, a young man who is living the life as multimillionaire who plans to form and run the largest Ponzi/Pump and Dump Scheme ever, and he succeeds. Belfort talks of not only his life at work and in the stock market but also his life at home. Partying, drugs, fast cars, pretty woman all these things were but apart of everyday life for Mr.Belfort. But with every beginning comes an end, and later on you come to realise that the man you were routing for throughout the book is actually the antagonist and that the FBI are the protagonists. Truly a riveting and flawless book.