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.