Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: Wench

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Publication Date: January 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Genre: Historical Fiction
ISBN-13: 9780061706561

(Received for review from TLC Tours)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Dolen Perkins-Valdez on the WEB: Website, Facebook, Twitter

Excerpt from
Book Trailer: This a video of the author actually reading from her book.

(Book Blurb):

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. the main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don't bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory - but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.

To run is to leave everything these women value most - friends and families still down South - and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal circumstances - all while they are being witness to the end of an era.

An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.


Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a novel that will shed light on the complex relationships of female slaves to their masters in the pre-Civil War South. Dolen Perkins-Valdez's debut novel is riveting and will keep the reader glued to it's pages until the very end. It is a very eye-opening look at what female wenches when through and how they were able to survive during this dark time in history.

Lizzie, Reenie and Sweet have become good friends over the years. Seeing each other every summer at Tawawa House, a resort where many plantation masters spent their vacations with their slave mistresses. They share the joys and sorrows of their lives and what they have had to face in the past year with each other, never really thinking about the fact that they are sitting in free territory. Their lives are so intertwined with the fabric of slavery that they fail to see how close to freedom they are, yet so far. When Mawu comes to Tawawa House things change. She has radical ideas about freedom and what it would mean to get away from her master. When Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet begin to see what freedom truly is, it is a tantalizing prospect, but can they leave behind everything and risk finding freedom?

This is a very well written book. The author blends historical facts and emotional and physical turmoil with a lyrical grace. Dolen Perkins-Valdez offers the reader a glimpse into what female slaves went through that will shock and horrify some. Her attention to detail is what really sets the book on a different level. She describes the setting and the political climate of the times in such a way that reader feels as though they are seeing the story unfold right before their eyes. The research for a novel of this kind is astounding and I believe the author had great passion for her subject matter and a great understanding of how to engage the reader.

The characters were just wonderful. The relationship between Master Drayle and Lizzie is fraught with so many complexities. He loves Lizzie yet he still treats her like a piece of property. Though he teaches her to read and finds her sister, he refuses to free the children they share and even feels it necessary to tie her up at times. Lizzie has to face the reality of having feelings for a man who obviously does not value you her in any way other than that of a possession. He commands her obedience and yet he still provides for her and her children in a way that would seem lavish to some slaves. Even though she is a slave she still has some power as a woman the master loves and takes care of, a status symbol in some ways. If she seeks freedom she will lose everything, her family, her friends, her children and what little self-respect she has. Her story is engrossing and poignant and the author brings her to life in a very satisfying way.

I think this is a novel that will open the eyes of many readers to the horrors that these women had to go through not only physically but emotionally. It explores their powerlessness to change their situation and the moral questions they faced when seeking true freedom. It also shows the resilience and strength these women possessed and I think readers will identify with them and find them believable. This is such a great story and the author is so in tune with her own voice that it was a joy a to read. I recommend this one to lovers of historical fiction and those who love stories about strong women who face seemingly insurmountable odds.

Wench is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's fiction and essays appear in
The Kenyon Review, African American Review, North Carolina Literary Review, and the Richard Wright Newsletter. Born and raised in Memphis, a graduate of Harvard, and a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow, Perkins-Valdez teaches creative writing at the University of Puget Sound. She splits her time between Washington D.C. and Seattle, Washington. This is her first novel.


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

This book takes such a unique look at the issues of slavery, one that I haven't seen in other books - I can't wait to read it myself! I'm hoping to get my book club to read it as well.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being on the tour.

Mystica said...

This must be an excellent story. I hope I get a chance to read this.