Reviewed by Amanda Keats
People may be familiar with the story of Solomon Northup, as a film has been made from the man's memoir. The story itself, however, deserves to be read to get the man's own perspective on those twelve years and what they did to him.
Solomon Northup, a free man of colour, was drugged and sold into slavery only to finally be freed after twelve long years seeing and experiencing the world through the eyes of a slave. However, knowing he does eventually find freedom does nothing to lessen the impact of this incredible story.
Northup so eloquently and honestly describes his ordeal – both the good and bad parts – that it makes for one of the most shocking and compelling reads ever written. He has caring owners and vicious ones and comes close to death on many occasions. One of the most heartbreaking parts of his story though is what he witnesses around him. A female slave never fully recovers from having her children taken from her. Another's beauty proves to be her curse.
Though the story is no doubt horrific, Northup manages to find some moments of joy and beauty. His rare talent as a musician means he gets access to the world of his owners most slaves would never see. He is also an incredibly talented craftsman and occasionally manages to find joy and pride in his work. The people he meets along the way both break and mend his heart and he finds strength in their courage and the bond he shares with them all.
12 Years a Slave is an eye-opening insight into a world many of us will not be familiar with, during a time when slave owning was the norm and many saw nothing wrong with the way those of colour were treated. Of course this story is not nearly as dated as you might think and many of the issues found in it still resonate today.
I cannot wait to see the film!