Synopsis: Twelve Years a Slave (1853) is a memoir and slave narrative by Solomon Northup. Northup, a black man who was born free in New York, details his kidnapping in Washington, D.C. and subsequent sale into slavery. After having been kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana by various masters, Northup was able to write to friends and family in New York, who were able to secure his release.
Title: Twelve Years a Slave
Author: Solomon Northup
Pub Date: First published in 1853
There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be reckoning yet … it may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just.
Solomon Northup, 1855
After watching the film, I was determined to read this classic – partly to see whether the book would be better, as it normally is, but also because I became interested in this particular man’s account of his life.
For some, Twelve Years a Slave reads like a good fiction novel – I disagree. The narrative is fragmented and there are long interruptions to discuss farming methods etc., which really didn’t work for me. As a work of fiction, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it but, as an honest account of a man’s experience, it became stimulating and overwhelming.
As a daughter of a first-generation immigrant family, you tend to hear a lot of stories about the ‘old days’, some good, but also many bad. Reading this book, I couldn’t help but see the similarities in how these stories are told. They are always slightly fragmented, normally with a much kinder, or at least detached view of the ‘bad guys’. Terrible events told in such a calm and considered way that you feel like it couldn’t have actually happened – it’s just a story, right?
Wrong. It is exactly this detached style of writing that makes the narrative so much more emotive, more real. This is what makes Twelve Years a Slave a brilliant book, and a classic I would definitely recommend.