12 Years A Slave (Book Review)

12 Years A Slave (Book Review)
Hello there!

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?

Olivia-Savannah x

26 thoughts on “12 Years A Slave (Book Review)”

  • I really want to read this book and see the movie. It's such an important story that's being told that I think people need to hear. It also sounds like a very personal and intense read, which are the type of stories that I tend to avoid, so I don't know if I would be able to read it without crying.

  • This sounds like a book I would read. Thank you for your review. I thought your first image looked more like a movie than a book cover. It's strange that I don't remember this movie coming out in 2013. In answer to your last question, I've read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in recent years, also "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom and "Angels Watching Over Me" by Michael Phillips. I think it's important to read these things to learn about history and to empathize with those who have suffered. On my bookshelves is another non-fiction book I'd like to read some day, "Up From Slavery" by Booker T. Washington. That was among some books my brother passed on to me years ago. He majored in engineering and passed on all his books from his required literature classes. I love your Isaiah and Jean Valjean quotes in this post. 🙂

    • I hope you will get the chance to read this one. It's also a pretty popular movie that won a lot of awards. I haven't heard of those ones, but I will be looking into them because they seem like ones that I could appreciate reading myself. I couldn't think of quotes more suitable to add to this post as well. 🙂

  • Wonderful review. I have been nervous about this book, but mostly because I don't read much non-fiction. And you say it requires patience and I am terrible when it comes to that. I have read books on slavery before and don't find it too heavy a topic. I loved history in school, and it was what I chose to do at college. I think it's an important part of our history and something that shouldn't be forgotten, so these kind of books are good to remind people of it.

    • Likewise, I don't read too much non-fiction but I have been reading more memoirs lately and this one is one I wanted to push myself to read. It really is important to remember our history, and this time period especially as well.

  • I know about the book thanks to the movie (although I haven't watched it) because, answering to your question, I find it to be an incredibly heavy subject and I'm quite an empathetic reader and I'm scared it will be too much for me. I had to study slave narrative last year in my American literature class but instead of reading whole books, we only looked at a few fragments giving more weight to the authors' lives. Still, it was hard to read and study afterwards. However, I do want to try and read more literature written by black authors. I absolutely adored The Bluest Eye even though it made me cry so bad. However, I think it's incredibly important to read all kinds of literature by all kinds of authors and I know it will be hard, but I must try still.
    Amazing review, Olivia! 🙂

    • It is a really hard movie to understand and I can understand why some people wouldn't want to pick this one up for it being so forward about everything that has happened and him going through such a tough situation. It's good that your course covered it. I haven't heard of the Bluest Eye before, but I am going to have to look into it. 🙂

  • Wonderful review, Olivia. I remember seeing the ads for the movie. From reading your review, I think I'd really like to go back and read the book first. I also didn't know it was written so long ago.
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

  • In essence, all of the slaves, no matter where they came from, were captured. We want to believe that it couldn't happen where we live, and that our civilization would not stoop so low. But those who feel like they are 'more ____' (fill in your favorite socio-economic scale) will always (well, usually) take advantage of those without power.

    I did not realize that it was a book prior to being a movie. Anything that comes out of Hollywood these days I tend to think is about as make believe as it gets. More power to Solomon Northrup, wherever he is.

    This is definitely going on my TBR.

  • I loved this book and the movie is one of my favorites as well. I found myself rereading passages because it was hard to interpret meanings sometimes. Speech patterns back then were not great, but you can feel his emotions coming through the pages. I hate that time in history. I just do not see how one could own a person and treat them that way. And most slave owners/traders called themselves Christians. Great review!

    • The movie had me in tears. I know what you mean about the writing style being hard to get sometimes, which is why it was so difficult for me at the beginning, but you get into it. It's sometimes so heard to read about this time in the past, but I believe it should be remembered despite it being so cruel. Sometimes that shocks me too.

  • I adored this book – I think *everyone* should read it. What really stood out to me was how dignified Solomon is throughout, and how fair and honest he is about everything that happened to him, and everyone he met.

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