Review: Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave
By Solomon Northup
(Graymalkin Media, Paperback, 9781631680021, February 2014, 248pp.)

The Short of It:

A true account of a free black man, kidnapped and forced into slavery.

The Rest of It:

While in Washington, D.C. on a business trip in the mid-1800’s, Solomon Northup was kidnapped and forced to be a slave for what became twelve long years. His story, as told to David Wilson, is shared here in this memoir.

Many of you may have seen the movie, which received several Oscar nods but as with most books made into movies, I am always interested in reading the book first, whenever possible so I have yet to see the movie myself. The book, although short, gives you just enough of the horrors of what he went through as a slave and it will make you angry. His relationships with the other slaves is the one saving grace. But the frustration over his situation is felt throughout his story and the worry and fear about his family is very compelling.

In one sense, it’s hard to believe that such a thing could happen and for so long, but his twelve years as a slave is riddled with pain, worry and fear over what will become of him. He encounters many slave owners during this time and although most of them are easy to anger and will stop at nothing when it comes to a delivering a good beating, there are others who treat their slaves as people, with the respect and dignity of an owner who appreciates hard work.

The story itself is very compelling and yes, unbelievable at times but the delivery of the story seemed a little formal to me. The language used to tell the story is very formal and dare I say it, somewhat cold and clinical. It’s as if this story was told to me at arm’s length, in a detached sort of way which of course took me out of the narrative many times. It’s very short, yet felt much longer than it should have. Perhaps the formality of it all added to this.

This was the September selection for my book club, chosen by me and of course that is the one meeting I had to miss due to back to school night, so I really don’t know what the others felt or how it compared to the movie. Will I see the movie? I had planned to prior to reading the book but now, I am not so sure.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

19 thoughts on “Review: Twelve Years a Slave”

  1. I haven’t read this book, but I can tell you that the movie is phenomenal…and makes you angry…etc. I really thought watching the movie was worth the sadness and anger it invoked in me. I will probably read the book at some point. I don’t think you’ll be distanced when you see the movie.

  2. Do yourself a favor and watch the movie. It is amazingly told and beautifully acted. You will go through a wave of emotions while watching.

  3. I am notoriously thin-skinned, and my sister, who is not, admired the film but advised me not to see it; the punishment, she explained, is unrelenting. Sometimes even a great movie is not appropriate for certain viewers. If you see it, I hope you post your thoughts.

    1. It’s hard for me to see these types of films only because my kids seem to always be around. If I can work it in, I will post my thoughts.


  4. I read this with my book club and felt the same as you. It was interesting to read because of the historical perspective (including pondering why it was written in such a formal manner) but I’m glad I saw the movie beforehand. It is one of those rare ones that is better than the book, in my opinion; it got me through the book quicker than I would have otherwise.

  5. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but am so looking forward to reading the book and then seeing the movie.

    Great review — the formal tone you describe (almost clinical) is not what I was expecting. Sounds interesting.

  6. I was on the fence about reading this one before seeing the movie and I might just see it first. Sometimes it’s easier for the emotion of a situation to be told through movies and it sounds like it might work that way with this one.

  7. I have been torn between reading the book first and then watching the movie or skipping the book part altogether. I think I will go straight to the movie now. I may connect with it better.

  8. The movie is phenomenal. I’ve never cried in a movie like I did with this one. His story is a tragically beautiful kind of story and I loved it. That’s all I can say. It deserved all the Oscars.

  9. Usually i am a “book first and it is always better than the movie” kind of girl. In this case i didnt know it was a book. LOVED the movie….horrifying…and i would like to say that i would follow up with the book but i think this is one of those too many books too little time deals…

  10. The book must be extraordinary and one I hope someday to read. I have it on my shelf, waiting. I saw the movie which is quite brutal and not easy to watch… but unfortunately apart of history. Solomon must have been quite a person to persevere. so glad you reviewed and picked this book!

  11. This is a gripping story filled with unbelievable sadness and treachery. To be wrenched away from your family and all that you love, to be thrown into slavery with no recourse to justice and to be beaten repeatedly for little or no crime is beyond belief. The diary or journal format of this book may prove more difficult for some readers but I found it to be a good read.

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