Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Paperback: 320 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
wench \’wench\ n. from Middle English “wenchel,” 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.
Situated in Ohio, a free territory before the Civil War, Tawawa House is an idyllic retreat for Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their enslaved black mistresses. It’s their open secret. Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at the resort, building strong friendships over the years. But when Mawu, as fearless as she is assured, comes along and starts talking of running away, things change. To run is to leave everything behind, 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 of circumstances— all while they bear 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.
In Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s debut novel Wench, the reader is brought into the lives of four slaves thrown together by chance and circumstances and the ties that bind them to each other and those that keep them forever apart. The story is told through Lizzie’s eyes, a slave from Tennessee, the only one of the four friends who is able to read and write. With vivid imagery and stunning detail, each woman comes to life and the reader is transported back into a time long passed. From the first page the reader becomes acquainted with George, Henry, Mawu, Reenie and Sweet and swiftly learns how Lizzie and Philip first become acquainted with each other on the way to Tawawa, a summer resort in free Ohio, where their respective masters have brought their woman and a trusted or valuable male slave. The first summer the four women, so very different from each other, become not only good friends, but also teachers to each other. It is during their first summer the women encounter those who are free. The notion of becoming free is a seed planted into each woman and their summers sustain them through the rest of the year until they are able to reunite. Wench is a heart-breaking and beautiful story of a turbulent time in history, which brings the struggle between slavery and freedom to light through Mawu, Reenie, Sweet, and Lizzie, as each woman struggles within herself. Wench is a novel that one will want to devour, digest and read again.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s fiction and essays have appeared in Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2009, The Kenyon Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, and the Richard Wright Newsletter. She is a former University of California postdoctoral fellow and graduate of Harvard. Dolen lives in the Washington, D.C. with her family.
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I received a complimentary copy of Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.