In Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup recounts the twelve years of his life in which he was forced into slavery in America. At times, it’s pretty horrible and difficult to read, but it’s important to read in order to get an idea of what life as a slave in America was actually like.
Through his book, he explains that he was living in the country as a free man, before being kidnapped and sold into slavery – a fate which befell countless numbers of innocent people. Not that it was any better to be born a slave. As a man who was married with children, it was obviously especially distressing for him to be separated from them with the thought that they wouldn’t know what had happened to him.
From then on, he describes his life as a slave. He explains the absolutely barbaric way in which he was treated (including horrible whippings) and how he was forbidden from ever mentioning the fact that he was a free man on pain of death. He also described the distressing things that happened to fellow slaves, like a mother being forcibly separated from her children. That was a particularly hard portion of the book to read.
What struck me as I read was that Northup writes in such a polite way. He never truly lashes out about the extremely inhumane things which were done to him. In some ways, this makes him come across as very endearing but I also imagine that he had to write it in this way in order to avoid discredited since this memoir was only published in 1853 and people who were pro-slavery would have been rampant. It’s sad that this may have been a necessity, but, either way, he has a very pleasant writing style.
The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I did occasionally find myself getting a little bored when reading about the day to day life of a slave, because it was a monotonous life. This didn’t happened too often and is certainly not a major issue. Overall, it’s a very powerful book which gives an insight into one of history’s biggest atrocities. Anybody in today’s world who believes that life wasn’t “that bad” for slaves should read this for a first hand perspective of what it was really like. For this reason, I recommend that everybody read as the important historical account that it is. It’s well written and covers a subject which must never be forgotten.