Even after seeing the trailer for Twelve Years A Slave, the movie, I wasn’t really thinking about reading the book. Slavery is so dark and so brutal that I figured even watching the movie would be hard. I wasn’t sure I wanted to delve into a detailed account of what appeared to be a bitter story. But then I saw a positive Cannonball review and figured I’d have to read it. So I picked up a brand-spankin’ new copy of, Twelve Years A Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup from my library.
It took me a little while to get used to the formal writing style. The beginning of the story is chock full of new names, characters, and places that I had trouble keeping straight. It was also in the beginning that I most felt the need for a historical commenter to put some of the events and customs into perspective. Although I’ve read a small bit about slavery in the South, I’m not very knowledgeable about living conditions and restrictions for free blacks in the North. I wondered if it was unusual that Solomon would leave for D.C. without leaving his wife a note. I also wondered how prevalent kidnapping like Solomon’s was in that time period–especially after Britain declared the slave trade illegal. Solomon certainly ran into a number of other kidnapped free men on his journey south.
But then I got into the story, and I became so involved with Solomon’s life that I couldn’t put it down. Solomon has a pretty varied view of slavery and how it affected him. Having endured both a kind man and a heartless asshole as “masters,” as well as work with sugar plantations, cotton plantations, carpentry, and playing the violin, Northup had a broad view of different aspects of slavery.