Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez


In the mid-1800s, Tawawa House, a resort in Ohio, was popular among Southern slaveholders who vacationed at the resort with their slave concubines. In Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez imagines what it may have been like for these slave women to spend time in free country with their masters. She brings this world to life through four slaves: Lizzie, Mawu, Sweet and Reenie. Although all four share the same role of "lover" to their master, they are all treated differently and have different feelings about their roles.

The story really focuses on Lizzie, her life with her master, the children she has borne for him, and her struggles to reconcile her love for her master and her friendship with the other slaves. However, all four characters are built up and brought to life throughout the novel. Wench is a remarkable look at how women like Lizzie had to use their special relationship with the master to gain favors for their fellow slaves and for their children. Perkins-Valdez also looked at the children who were produced from these relationships, how their fathers dealt with their offspring who were also their property, and the struggles their mothers faced with seeing their children forced to work as slaves or sold off to other slave owners.

This was a unique look into the lives of slave women. I have never read about the way slave owners used their female slaves for sex and to bare their children. Perkins-Valdez does a wonderful job of showing several different sides of the story ~ from the slave who abhors her role to the slave who actually loves her master and her role as mother of his children. I can't imagine what these women went though, the physical and emotional toil that went along with their roles. It's both shocking and enlightening. This would make an excellent book club selection. It's a quick read, but has a lot of depth as well.

My Rating: 4/5

Reading group guide and discussion questions for Wench

This review was written based on a copy of Wench that I received from the publisher, Harper Collins. This is book #23 for the Countdown 2010 Challenge.

7 comments:

  1. Fantastic review! I definitely want to read this one.

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  2. I read Wench too and it was enlightening. I knew that slaves were often used as mistresses, but to no where near the extent that it implies. Can't you just picture the tongues wagging of those people in Ohio?

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  3. This was an incredible story that I did not want to end. I finished with the feeling that there is so much more to tell. I'm not sure about linking protocol in comments; so I'll just invite you to browse my blog. It's still pretty small and easy to navigate. Found you on the Hop. Happy 4th.

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  4. I am back - commenting again now that I have read it and have to laugh that it took me a year to do so :)

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  5. This was a beautifully written honest look at a painful period in history, but also a story about friendship, hope, and family. While Wench is in no way a fast paced novel, it is still a page-turner. What Dolen Perkins-Valdez does so well is present the complexities of those relationships between slave-owner-friends-family. All the shades of gray as well as what is inherently right and wrong in these situations are explored as well as how each individual character felt and reacted. I found it to be thought provoking and emotional, yet altogether satisfying. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys southern historical fiction.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! You make some very good points, and I agree that anyone who enjoys southern historical fiction should definitely give this a try.

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