Friday, February 5, 2010


"Wench" by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

This book was suggested by an online friend who had listened to the author's interview on NPR. Several of us got copies and decided to do an online discussion. I just finished the book this evening. The discussion is still pending. I wasn't sure if I wanted to review it before or after the discussion, but obviously I have chosen "before."

The story occurs in 1850's Ohio at a resort called Tawawa. Southern "Gentlemen" rent out the cottages at this resort in order to keep their slave entourages with them. As Ohio was a free state only their most trusted slaves accompanied the men to Tawawa each summer. The main hotel is filled with northern guests who find the Southern men with their slaves distasteful.

Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet & Mawu are the female slaves/sexual property of four of the southern men. Each of these women has a similar yet very different relationship with her master. Lizzie is the youngest and most naive. It's through her eyes we see the story. She believes her love for her master is reciprocated by him. She has born his only two children and she lives an awkward but relatively comfortable life in his home. Reenie is the oldest of the four and had only one child who was sold off. Her master is not kind. Sweet is pregnant with her fifth child at Tawawa. Her other children are still together on the plantation, not taken from her and sold off. Her master seems mostly indifferent to her as a person, being neither exceptionally kind, nor cruel. Mawu had four children, three of which had been sold off by her master. Her master was violent and cruel and seemed to want her only because she hated him so much.

Being in a free state, the slaves consider running, except for Lizzie who feels security in her position and cannot fathom never seeing her young children again, let alone never knowing what could happen to them as a result of her running.

Three summers of visits are recounted in the novel displaying the interactions between the slaves, their masters and their desires. The book is an easy read, both fascinating and disturbing. It's easy to imagine the emotional turmoil the women have been through and fear recurring as well as the physical violence that wreaks havoc at a moment's notice.

This novel is well worth your time. Thumbs up.
Afterthought: I would be interested to hear from anyone that has read this novel as to their take on the jacket photo. I felt it was misleading about what was to expect. Anyone have any ideas how it ties in?

1 comment:

  1. I have this on hold at the library...can't wait to read it, especially after your comments. Thanks, Betsy!