12 Years a Slave – Book Review

So I finally finished Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, the true story of a free man from New York who was illegally sold into slavery. The book was published in 1853, and was adapted into the extremely popular film in 2013. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I plan to watch it soon.

This book was a difficult read for a few reasons. The writing, while very detailed and enthralling, is just as one would expect for a book from the 19th Century: formal and outdated. I really enjoyed the writing, but since I’m already a slow reader, it took me longer to get through some of the anecdotes since I had to carefully decipher his true meaning.

For long sections of the book, he goes on about cotton picking, farming, the swamplands where he was imprisoned, and so on, which made some of it both interesting yet incredibly dull at the same time. Learning about how each crop was harvested wasn’t exactly riveting information, but understanding the process only furthered my shock, as I couldn’t imagine someone like him, a free man with a family and career, spending day after day in the hot sun with barely a minute of rest. Twelve years is an awfully long time to spend doing repetitive tasks for someone you despise, with almost no hope of escape.

It was also painful to read the cruel events that happened to himself and the other slaves. However, Northup was very insightful and intelligently pointed out that most of his masters were just doing as they had grown up learning was true and just. I was impressed by his patient and forgiving attitude throughout most of the book.

Of course, he wasn’t always forgiving, and when he knew he was being wrongly punished, he stood up for himself and spoke out as much as he dared when circumstances permitted it. Although I knew he escaped eventually, the book read like a suspense, and I was always on the edge of my seat wanting to know how he would finally win back his freedom.

They should really make this book required reading in high school or college. Northup wrote with so much detail and so much eloquence that I could hardly believe I was reading a memoir from so long ago. The book is a short read but I found it hard to make myself pick it up each time because of all the horrors accounted inside. However, I’m glad I read it and I definitely think it’s worth the read.

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