Review: 12 Years a Slave

12 years a slave12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Source: free online e-copy from Project Gutenberg

This was a bookclub read which accorded with our theme for the year, adaptation. Truthfully, it wasn’t really something I looked forward to reading and I was still using the excuse of morning sickness of not being able to finish it on time. I just wasn’t looking forward to reading all about the cruelty we can visit upon another being; of the sadness and depressing things this book may just tell me about slavery etc.

12 Years a Slave is an autobiography first published in 1853 –just after he was rescued from slavery. My friends and I found it, therefore, somewhat odd that the book was quite lacking in emotion. It had the feeling of someone who is telling a story but who was not involved in it. On the other hand, we could understand that delving in past hurtful wasn’t something that he’d like to do. This was written merely as an official record of what was happening in the country at that time.

At the beginning of the book, after Solomon Northup described his background and rise to prosperity, he made a comment on kidnapping people of colour from the North and placed them into slavery in the South. It appears that this was NOT an uncommon thing and this, more than anything else, caught me by surprise. I didn’t realise that this happened regularly and made me wonder whether this is a common sort of knowledge in the US.

My expectation was completely different to what I actually found in the book. This primarily affected my average sort of reaction to this book. It merely tells of Solomon’s kidnapping, his time as a slave (brave and yet, trying to keep under the radar to survive), the atmosphere in the North (types of plantation, the process, the people, etc), and lastly, his miraculous deliverance. There were few moments where I was touched (slightly) but overall, after all the accolades the movie has received, I can’t see it in the book. I haven’t yet seen the movie though I would hazard a guess that being a screen adaptation, there will probably more emotions involved and being on screen, the graphic deliverance of some scenes will touch people harder than the words used in this book.

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