●Twelve Years A Slave ●By Solomon Northrup ●Read by Richard Allen
Salty, hot takes on a slave narrative? Really? But remember, much of my focus is on the narration since these are audio book reviews, so indulge me, please. This is one of several “slave narratives” I’ve taken in either by reading with my eyeballs or listening to. For those who don’t know, a slave narrative is a specific type of near contemporaneous memoir /autobiography written in the first person by an enslaved African American. Why do I specify “with my eyeballs?” Because I know someone (not naming any names *cough* my husband) who calls it reading when they listen to an audiobook. But I digress…
Please indulge another digression. There are three types of book readers for audio books. Straight readers (the audio book on “Risk Management” from Seinfeld comes to mind). Then there is narration, like what your mother would do at night, when she didn’t want to do all the voices for all the characters, but she still put a little heart into it. Finally, there is a dramatic reading. These are readers who give each character a different voice, modulate their tone and intensity, and basically help the story come alive in your head.
I wasn’t in love with Richard Allen, the reader, at first because he was straight reading the book with no inflection of any kind. It also didn’t help that he also read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. It was weird thinking of two men from the 1800’s with the exact same voice as if there is only one narrator on the planet who can capture that zeitgeist. As the chapters went along, however, it’s like he figured out what he wanted to do and he was great. In particular, he sang three campfire songs. His baritone and dialect were wonderful and brought the songs to life (making it all the more sad that it was about Christmas under slavery).