In 12 Years a Slave Solomon Northup, a free Black man living in the north, recounts his experience of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. For twelve years he witnessed and suffered the indignities and brutality of slavery, until one day one of his pleas for help made it to the right person. He was then rescued and reunited with his family. It is a compelling and disturbing read. That it was from the victim’s point of view (as opposed to a third party observer) made it more so.
In addition to being an account of slavery, it is an account of hope even in the most dire of circumstances. During his twelve years of captivity, Solomon survived as best he could and somehow, did not lose hope. He never forgets his family and keeps thinking of ways to get back to them. Somehow Solomon’s experience doesn’t make him bitter or mean. I’m not giving anything away by writing that the story ends happily for Solomon. (If it hadn’t this book would not exist.) I wish I knew what happened a year, five years, or ten years later. I want to know how he dealt with the world after going through such a horrific experience. I wonder how his experience changed how he felt about the country he lived in. I bet that would be an equally compelling and interesting story.
I read this book in anticipation of seeing the movie of the same name. After reading it, I’m not sure I can watch the movie. It paints a vivid picture of slavery and I’m not sure I can sit through images of people being whipped and otherwise brutally treated. Speaking of the movie, I recently listened to an interview with Steve McQueen (writer and director of the movie by the same name) stated that his goal in making this film was to get book on school curriculums. I hope he succeeds. I'd put this on the same level as The Diary of Anne Frank. Both books put a face on and give a voice to history, reminding us that real people suffered.
One last thought – I read the Penguin Books edition of this book. It includes an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. titled, What Is an African- American Classic? I usually skim, if not skip all together, introductions but this one is well worth the read.