Twelve Years A Slave – Hump Day Book Review
I recently undertook reading Twelve Years A Slave. I wanted to read it before I saw the movie (and at the point of writing this post, I have not yet seen the movie). Also the “An African American Classic” in the subtitle really needs to be changed to “A CLASSIC”. Because it is. This story is eye-opening outstanding.
If you have not heard of it, Twelve Years A Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup, a black man, who was raised in the North-East United States (mainly in New York) during the 1800 slave era, then dubiously tricked into travel to the “slave states” where he was drugged, sold as a slave, and spent the next 12 years of his life on various plantations being treated as a sub-animal species.
Solomon was a talented fiddle-player who was asked by 2 men, to accompany them and their band. Thinking it was a short trip, Solomon failed to tell his wife (who was away at a seasonal job, and since communication was much different then, there was no reason to send word when Solomon only planned being gone a couple of weeks). During this trip to the northern slave states, Solomon got drugged, his freeman papers (papers all blacks had to carry with them in slave states to prove they were not escaped slaves) stolen, and he was sold under a new name to a local slave trader. It is here where he learned the true meaning of slave and became a piece of property – and one that was considered lower than the animals on the plantations he tended.
The whole story is sickening and you must keep reminding yourself that this actually happened. During reading it many times I would go into ‘fiction mode’, because it is just so perplexing that anyone could be treated/treat another like this. But unfortunately this did happen, and this is one of the many stories that are not commonly taught in school.
This book should be read by everyone, of any age. It is a great lesson, and teaches a side of history most text books gloss over. The book never gets vulgar, but Solomon does give details of his personal slave experiences. He is also bluntly honest about all his decisions (including one to keep silent about his free status and the one time he should have told but didn’t out of sheer fear), and about how his education and musical talents allowed him slight more luxury than some of his slave counterparts.
Like I said, I have yet to see the movie, so I do not know how true it is to the book, but this book is definitely a must-read story and will make you start thinking about people and how they are treated in a different light.
I recommend pairing it with another slave-era autobiography – Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs – about a slave who went almost beyond sanity to save her children and escape her slave bondage.
About Dani Blanchette
I am a freelance travel and music photographer and creator of GoingNomadic.com.
I love music, food, and exploring cities without guidebooks. I’ve flown a helicopter, hitchhiked down the east coast USA, and once snuck into the back of a zoo (in Serbia) and pet a lion.
I am always up for an adventure, and sometimes I videotape them.