This book doesn’t need much introduction. It is the memoir that has gained renewed attention since the release of the film by the same name. The memoir was written in the 1850s by Solomon Northup who, although he was a free man living in the North, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He remained a slave for 12 years until he was able to convince a white abolitionist to help him contact his family and secure his freedom.
I have not seen the movie, but I would highly recommend the book. It is beautifully written, poetic in places, horrifying in others. It is much more than a historical narrative, it is the story of a loved and loving man who remains hopeful and spiritual in the harshest of situations.
As you’d expect, it is educational, but it is also inspirational. Some passages are so lyrical, they read like a psalm.
The book really deserves a more thoughtful and robust review, but no matter how elaborate the review, it would come down to the same recommendation: Just read it.
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.