Thursday, March 11, 2010

[Book Review] WENCH by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Fiction/African-American Historical

Darletha Matthews reviews WENCH by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Amistad, 2010)

This story takes place in the early 1840s and 1850s.

Tawawa House is a resort located in the free state of Ohio, where Northern and Southern whites spend summer vacation. Four slave women--Lizzie, Mawu, Rennie, and Sweet--accompany their respective masters each summer to the resort. They reside in private cottages with their masters, away from the disapproving eyes of Northern guests in the main hotel. The wives stay at home. The resort is located in an area surrounded by anti-slavery residents, but the Southern men are confident that their slaves will not run away.

Lizzie, Mawu, Rennie, and Sweet look forward to reuniting each summer at Tawawa, where they find reprieve from the plantation's confinement. They explore the area between work duties and share stories about their lives and families. Each woman has endured some form of abuse and heartbreak because, as slaves, they have no control over their bodies or the fates of their loved ones.

Mawu is the newest and most outspoken woman in the group. Suffering endless abuse, Mawu resents "being made to feel no different than a cow or a goat or a chicken." The other women don't discuss being slaves but Mawu's questions force them confront their feelings.

Lizzie has mixed feelings for her master, Drayle. She feels she should hate him because she is a slave, but Drayle has favored Lizzie since she was young. Lizzie is allowed to read and speak freely in his presence, hoping that in her submission, he will one day free the son and daughter she has given him. When Mawu tries to persuade the others to escape, dire consequences follow.

Slavery is known as the “Peculiar Institution” and this novel depicts the complexities of male-master/female-slave relationships. Through Mawu and Lizzie, Wench explores the extremes of these forced relationships on a slave woman’s psyche. This novel is filled with shocking and redeeming moments, all described in simple, elegant language. I recommend it to fans of African-American historical fiction.

Darletha Matthews, South Branch Library

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Sounds like an interesting read.
I really enjoyed this novel. The author is originally from Memphis too!
I think this will be a popular read for many book clubs soon! It's great to get a review now, so I can send them to Memphis Reads for insight.
Beth, Highland Branch Library
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