Friday, July 23, 2010


Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Wench/Amistad for HarperCollins 2010/290pp.

In her debut novel Wench, a work of historical fiction Dolen Perkins-Valdez explores the relationship between slave owners and their enslaved mistresses. The story is primarily set at, Tawawa House summer resort a real location in the free state of Ohio on a plot of land near Xenia, Ohio. Naturally the open relationships between slaves and their owners, offended the northern abolitionists who also visited the resort, so after four short years, and a number of tragic and cruel events, the resort closed; leaving both slave and their master with some hard life lessons.

The four slave women featured: Mawu, Sweet, Reenie, and Lizzie are from plantations in different states, and the relationships they have with their masters differ drastically.

There's naïve Lizzie a central character who sincerely believes that she and her master are in love. A belief she primarily bases on the fact that she and her master have two children-children whose freedom he refuses to grant, from the relationship he begins with her while she was only thirteen.

And then there are the other three slave women, who have more than a little contempt for their masters, of the three red-haired Mawu's hate is strong, firm, and deep.

The author masterfully accounts how, the four slave women form an enduring friendship during the few weeks in the summer when they are whisk away to the cottages each year. They look forward to catching up on what's going on with their children, family, and life. Although it may have been a glimmer of hope in the darkest corners of their minds, freedom was not a subject discussed, well not until high-spirited Mawu join the group and voices her endless determination to escape. Lizzie can't understand why Mawu can't be still and accept her fate and Mawu can't understand why Lizzie is so willing to accept her fate.

Ohio may have been a free state but the slave women were still anything but free. They just weren't on the plantation but instead at a lovely summer cottage where the master’s wives couldn't see how openly they engaged in relations with their slave women. The women were still required to perform their slave duties and endure the dehumanization their masters and their master's friends put them through, they were still monitored, systematically raped, and even chained on a whim. Only while at Tawawa House they were encourage to pretty themselves up with the tattered old ball gowns of previous white patrons and attend a semi-public dinner and dance.

This novel is a MUST read for everyone. The author reveals the painful pleasures that a slave endures, through some of the most well-developed and memorable characters depicted in print. This isn't a tired old story of slavery, anything but. This story is about families, friendships, love and so much more. It tells of the advantages/disadvantages and relationships the Wenches had with their masters - it tells of an idyllic resort and the summers spent there. This story enlightens the readers to a whole new world. The author has mastered story-telling with this, her debut novel. I'm looking forward to more of the same from her.

I did not receive a complimentary copy of this book to facilitate my review. The opinions are mine.

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