Title: Twelve Years a Slave
Author: Solomon Northup
Publisher: Derby & Miller
Published Date: 1853
Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis: This unforgettable memoir was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. This is the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born and raised as a freeman in New York. He lived the American dream, with a house and a loving family - a wife and two kids. Then one day he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the deep south. These are the true accounts of his twelve hard years as a slave - many believe this memoir is even more graphic and disturbing than the film. His extraordinary journey proves the resiliency of hope and the human spirit despite the most grueling and formidable of circumstances.
Review: Today I am going to be more discussing than reviewing this memoir for you which is a moving true story called Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. I am sure a lot of you are familiar with the movie, and after reading this I hope to go and see it myself now.
This book was written in 1853, which surprised me. I didn’t know it was written so long ago until I had read about half the book. This is an autobiography of a man who was kidnapped from his home city and had his rights to freedom taken away from him as he was sold to slavery. In this book you get to hear about some of the horrid things he was commanded to do and seen happen to him and others in his 12 years as a slave. You get to hear other people’s stories of the slaves around him as well, and in the end, we learn how those 12 years ended for him.
At the beginning of the book I found it hard to read, because the style was difficult to grasp. When it comes to classics I can usually adapt pretty quickly, but with this story I just couldn’t. I almost thought I was going to have to stop reading. But in the end, somewhere after the first thirty pages, it suddenly got a whole lot easier to read. I am not sure if it’s just me, or because of the way it was written. After that I was able to plug in more emotionally to the novel as well, because technical things weren’t in the way.
There isn’t much more to say about this book except that you will need to have a lot of patience if you are going to read it. There are some scenes which seem to take a while to get through because the author needs to give us a lot of background information for us to understand what is happening, and that can take a while. Otherwise I am sure most people would like it, and also want to see the movie.
What interested me most about this novel was points I came across when discussing the novel with a friend. She pointed out that Solomon seemed to be incredibly forgiving of the ‘good’ slave owners. If they didn’t pester the slaves too much outside of the duty they were set and gave them good food, Solomon would say he was blessed and happy. However, he still never trusted the good slave owners to reveal that he was actually a free man after his first ordeal. He is less forgiving of the ‘bad’ slave owners, but the fact that he could even call a slave owner good really shows what a forgiving and optimistic man Solomon must’ve been. This was something that stood out a lot to my friend.
She also mentioned the fact that Solomon was a free man and yet was captured into slavery. After his 12 years, he must have spent the rest of his whole life wary, worrying that he could be kidnapped once again and then be taken away and back into slavery. The fact that you had documents to prove you were free meant nothing to some people, and that must have been petrifying to live through.
There were some elements to this novel that struck me most about it as well. One of them was the whole unknown situation with the novel. Patsey is a character you get to know very well throughout the book, and she definitely has it terribly hard. Her male slave owner uses her sexually even though she is unwilling. The wife knows this and hates Patsey for it, never making her life easy and constantly picking on her. She was the best at the job that she was required for but that wasn’t enough. It got to the point where she didn’t even want to live anymore. I couldn’t comprehend why those who hated the slaves could later want to use them sexually. If you hate something, shouldn’t you want to stay away from it? But apparently that isn’t so.
What bothered me most about the situation with Patsey is that we never know what happens in the end. Solomon ends his 12 years but of course, only he can go and no one else with him. He leaves Patsey and since he originally lives far away from where he was a slave, he never sees her again. That leaves the reader to think of all the situations and endings for Patsey’s story that they want. In my head I can picture nothing but worse case scenarios. And the scariest thing is that those are the most likely truthful ones.
I know this review is long, but another point that hurt me is that fact that he was gone for 12 years. 12 years is such a long time, and all of it was stolen from him. When he comes back, his children that he left as toddlers are grown up adults who have gone through plenty of life events without him. For all he knows, they could be married, have children, his wife could’ve moved on. All that time that his family don’t know him… it makes me want to cry knowing just how much he has stolen from him.
I picked this book up because being coloured myself, I always feel like it is important to remember those before me who must’ve died and fought for my freedom, or suffered a fate that I would’ve if I lived in that time. I recommend to all who want to know more about history, discrimination in those times and what the slaves had to work through. I recommend it patient readers, and I hope you enjoy it.
Links: Goodreads and Amazon!
Olivia’s Question: Have you read many books about slavery or is too heavy a subject?