Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Published January 2010 by Harper Collins, now out in paperback
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours
In the mid-19th century there was a resort, Tawawa House, in Ohio where slave owners vacationed with their slave mistresses. The beautiful cover of this book might lead readers to believe that this was a place where these women lived a life of leisure and pampering, quite different from their lives on the plantation. Such was not the case. While there was perhaps slightly more leisure time, these slaves were still expected to keep the cottages they and their masters stayed in clean, still expected to service their masters, and still beaten for any infraction. Although Ohio was not a slave state, the slaves that journeyed to Tawawa House knew they risks for attempting to escape were nearly as great as if they tried to run away from their plantations.
In Wench, Perkins-Valdez introduces the reader to a group of slaves and their owners who regularly travel to Tawawa House in the summers. Rennie, the oldest, is also the saddest and the most resigned to her lot in life. Sir, her owner, is also her half brother, a man who is willing to trade her services for other pleasures. Sweet is the youngest and pregnant when we first meet her. Despite her pregnancy, Master does not hesitate to beat Sweet when he sees fit and because of her pregnancy and the four other children she has left on the plantation, she is least likely to make a run. Lizze, actually loves her owner, Drayle, and believes that he will one day free their children if she just treats him the right way.
When Mawu, a red-headed, freckled slave comes into their midst one summer, she makes them all question their lives and begins to put thoughts into their heads about a different life. Her owner, Tip, is by far the most vicious of the owners and when he finds out that Mawu is contemplating running away, he viciously beats her in front of the other slaves. Instead of causing them to give up on their ideas of freedom, it drives the slaves to contemplate just how close they are to freedom and to question just how much they would be willing to give up to have it.
From the moment I first heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it and the rave reviews it got only made me want to read it more. By the time I finally did read it, I was concerned that it wouldn't be able to live up to my expectations. Wench more than met my expectations. Perkins-Valdez does a remarkable job in her debut of bringing these women to life and of exploring the complicated relationship between slave owners and their mistresses. Heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time, you can't help but imagine yourself in these women's positions. Would you be able to give up your children, risk what might happen to anyone you cared about if it meant that you could leave a life of abuse and control?
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour! For more reviews of this book, see the full list of tour sites.