Author: Solomon Northup
Publisher: Penguin Books
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Paperback, 278 Pages
Published August 2013 (First Published 1853)
Review: Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, Twelve Years a Slave is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. It recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation.
I had to read this book for my college American History class, and I wasn't expecting to like it at all. Having grown up my entire life learning American History, I was expecting this class to just be another situation where I processed regurgitated information and wanted to cry the entire time.
However, I actually ended up enjoying reading this book. It tells the true story (it's an autobiography) of Solomon Northup, a free man in the North who was kidnapped and forced into Southern slavery. I'd learned a lot about the slave trade throughout my years of schooling, but I never really knew that some slaves were kidnapped free men and women, who had no means of communication or any credibility for people to fight for their freedom.
Northup has to endure a lot of things throughout his captivity, such as beatings, and sickness, and running away -- and lots and lots of violence. He himself is a victim of lashings, and even has to dole out whippings of his own at some point. He doesn't form close relationships with many people, because everyone that he gets close to either ends up dying as a victim of violence/sickness, or being moved away to another plantation. Northup spends an entire twelve years of his life away from his friends, his wife, his home, and his three children -- all this time where nobody knows exactly where he is, so they don't know how to save him.
(Note: This is a situation where a cell phone would have been a handy invention at the time.)
My only complaints with this book was that at certain points, it was kind of dry. Northup would spend five entire pages describing how to pick cotton - information that may be important to the story if briefly shared, but it becomes overkill when it was explained for that long.
I also found the story ten times more interesting because it was real -- all of this stuff actually happened to a real American man on this country's very soil. It's both interesting and heartbreaking, and it kept me hooked to the story the entire time, partially in awe and partially in disbelief and shame for my country's dark past.
All in all, I found Twelve Years a Slave to be a much more riveting read than I was expecting. I only gave it two stars, however -- in our rating system, that means "it was okay" -- because I felt that at parts there was too much description, or confusion, or it was dragging at parts. Other than that, it was very interesting (and, of course, heartbreaking) to see how Northup lived his life as a slave, and eventually managed to gain his own freedom.
I have a tendency of not always enjoying the books I'm required to read in school, but I have to say, this one gave me a promising outlook on the rest of my assigned readings in college. Believe it or not, I'm glad I got the chance to read this book, because I learned a lot about the other side of slavery, and what is was like to experience it from the first person point of view.
If you're looking for a historical fiction novel to read that won't bore you to tears, I definitely recommend this one -- give it a try!