I recently saw the above trailer for Steve McQueen’s upcoming film 12 Years a Slave and immediately got excited to see it on the merits of the trailer, cast, and director alone. But then at the library the following day I happened to see the memoir upon which the film is based and decided to read it.

Twelve Years A Slave is the Solomon Northup’s first-hand account of his kidnapping into the cruel slavery world of the antebellum South and his long-awaited deliverance. Great Scott is his story breathtaking. The book is short yet wonderfully written, so I’d highly encourage you to read it before the movie comes out so you can read for yourself Northup’s concisely poetic narrative.

One particular passage that stood out was his description of Christmas day, one of the few days all year that the slaves didn’t work:

That morning [the slave] need not hurry to the field, with his gourd and cotton-bag. Happiness sparkled in the eyes and overspread the countenances of all. The time of feasting and dancing had come. … There were to be re-unions, and joy and laughter. It was to be a day of liberty among the children of Slavery.

One of the few ebullient passages in what is otherwise a dark and suffering-filled story, I like how it shows the slaves drawing their own joy and tangible meaning out of a holiday that was also celebrated by the very men who unjustly enslaved Solomon and his brethren.

Read the book. (And while you’re at it, check out the director Steve McQueen’s film Hunger, which chronicles the harrowing prison hunger strike of IRA rebel Bobby Sands.)