12 Years A Slave (the memoir on which the movie you might have heard of is based) is a memoir written in 1853. I haven’t watched the film, but I was intrigued by the book when I stumbled upon it because I haven’t read many accounts or even novels about slavery. The book tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a freeman in New York who, in 1841, is kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he remains for 12 years until freed in 1853.
Although the events that Northup experienced are far from boring to read, and the book is an incredibly detailed insight into the life of a slave in the 19th century, I found the book incredibly slow at time. I wish that Northup had told us more of the people he was with during his twelve years, perhaps instead of dedicating entire pages to tell us about farming methods. I think that the various people under whom Northup worked, such as William Ford, Tibeats and Epps, were described well and I understood what sort of people they work, but for having spent ten years in the company of slaves like Patsey, I wish he had written about them more as actual people than just like shadows in the background of Northup’s story, which is what they felt like to me when reading.
I also wish that there was more of Solomon Northup’s actual thoughts in the book, but it felt as if I was reading a factual step-by-step account of his life instead of hearing it from him. It felt odd that this was a first-hand account and yet throughout most of the book, Northup makes no mention of the family he left behind, if he missed them or not, and even when he finished telling the story, he refused to give an opinion on the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery; I found it unsettling that after having been through everything he told, he could not give an opinion on it. There were very few times when an event was described not purely as a factual account and we got a sense of Northup’s actual feelings towards it, such as telling of Patsey’s treatment, and those were definitely the most striking parts of the book.
I found this book truly difficult to read as it was incredibly slow and felt too detached from the incidents themselves, however it was a fantastic insight into the life of slaves.