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Wash Hardcover – February 5, 2013

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Wash + Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802120660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802120663
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Wrinkle’s debut novel tells the heartrending tale of life on a slave plantation in early nineteenth-century Tennessee, where the lives of two slaves, Wash and Pallas, intersect with that of Richardson, a land baron and Revolutionary War veteran. Richardson acquires Mena, already pregnant with Wash, at auction in 1796. From his earliest years, Mena tells her son stories of her West African homeland, determined that he grow up knowing who his people are. When debt threatens to overwhelm Richardson, who has been dabbling unsuccessfully in western land development, he decides to hire Wash out as a breeder, much like one of his horses, to neighboring slave owners. This proves to be a lucrative enterprise, but one that gradually breaks Wash’s spirit. Until he meets Pallas, a young woman with healing powers who reaches back to his West African roots to help him rise above his harsh surroundings. Wrinkle has written a remarkable first novel, one that will haunt readers with the questions it raises, and the disturbing glimpse it offers into an unfathomable world. --Deborah Donovan


Winner of the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize

Named a Best Book of 2013 by the Wall Street Journal

"A masterly literary work . . . Wrinkle’s novel does not allow us to draw easy correlations but invites us to consider the painful inheritance and implications of such a horrendous moment in American history. Rather than disapproving opprobrium and diatribes, this debut occasions celebration. Haunting, tender and superbly measured, Wash is both redemptive and affirming." —Major Jackson, The New York Times Book Review

"[An] unflinching, stunningly imagined debut." —Vanity Fair

"A marvel. By turns grim and lyrical, heart-wrenching and hopeful." —People (four stars; a People Pick)

"A powerful novel." —O, the Oprah Magazine (one of "Ten Titles to Pick Up Now")

"The voices of the past can't speak for themselves and must rely on the artists of the future to honor them. It's a profound responsibility and one that Margaret Wrinkle meets in her brilliant novel Wash. She shows not only the courage to submerge herself in the Stygian world of plantation slavery but also the grace and sensitivity to bring that world to life . . . Narrative roles are given to Wash, fellow slaves and his succession of masters, creating a dense, hypnotic ensemble of voices similar to the effect achieved in Peter Matthiessen's momentous retelling of the life of a Florida sugar plantation owner, Shadow Country . . . It's from patriarchs like Wash as well as like Richardson, Ms. Wrinkle shows, that the U.S. was born." —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Amazing . . . Never has a fictionalized window into the relationship between slave and master opened onto such believable territory . . . Wash unfolds like a dreamy, impressionistic landscape . . . [A] luminous book." —Atlanta Journal Constitution

"A lyrical story of courageous human beings transcending the cruelty and degradation of their slave-holding society." —The Dallas Morning News

"The history of the South provides plenty of tense, complicated material. Even subjects we think we know well can often reveal new stories in the hands of a talented author. Margaret Wrinkle's debut novel Wash is one of those stories." —Jackson Free Press

"[A] profound debut novel that takes readers on a journey into a past that left an inevitable mark in America’s history . . . Wash is a powerfully haunting tale about the captor and captive. It offers a look at both through their own narrative form expressing their true feeling." —Birmingham Times

"Wash achieves something extraordinary: a full-fledged confrontation with one of the most difficult aspects of our nation’s history. . . . Wrinkle has given us an honest and important expression of hope . . . a firm foothold that leads in the direction of truth and reconciliation. We would do well to take this step." —The Post and Courier

"[Wrinkle] plumbs beyond the brutality and into the wisdom of the ages to compose an elegiac yet surprisingly uplifting portrait of the resilience of the human spirit. . . . Wash is a solemn and magnificent paean to the survival—even amid the most crushing, inhumane conditions—of the special and eternal essence within every soul." —Shelf Awareness

"In this deeply researched, deeply felt debut novel, documentarian Wrinkle aims a sure pen at a crucial moment following America’s War of Independence. . . . The novel well evokes the tragedy not only of [its] lovers’ untenable positions, but also that of their master and his fragile country." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Wrinkle bears witness to the inhumanity of slavery . . . A moving and heart-rending novel." —Kirkus Reviews

"Heart-rending . . . Wrinkle has written a remarkable first novel, one that will haunt readers with the questions it raises, and the disturbing glimpse it offers into an unfathomable world." —Booklist

"Wrinkle has spotlighted a crucial era in the American experience, writing with grace and intelligence." —New York Journal of Books

"Wrinkle masterfully takes us on a powerful journey through the darkest past and present of this country, boldly addressing the chasm of racial divide with the scalpel of a gruesome truth. Wash is the epitome of courage and determination to heal the central wound of this culture." —Malidoma Patrice Somé, author of The Healing Wisdom of Africa

"Wash is bold, unflinching, and when finished, certain to haunt the reader for a long, long time." —Ron Rash, author of Serena and The Cove

"Boldly conceived and brilliantly written, Margaret Wrinkle's Wash reveals the horrible human predation of slavery and its nest of nightmares. With a truthfulness even beyond Faulkner, Wrinkle makes her novelistic debut in a monumental work of unflinching imagination." —Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, Abundance, and Adam and Eve

"Margaret Wrinkle’s Wash is a marvelous window into the world of nineteenth century American slavery—a powerful fusion of knowledge and imagination." —Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone that the Builder Refused

"A significant and hugely troubling book." —Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy, Town Smokes, The Wrecking Yard, and Dogs of God

"This majestic, beautifully-written novel will both break your heart and make it wiser." —Charles Gaines, author of Stay Hungry, Pumping Iron, A Family Place, and The Next Valley Over

"This exquisite novel is a gift of healing. It exposes the dark and fearsome sin that stains our history, and confronts the guilt that lurks in our collective American soul. But in the genius of the telling we are led to the tenderness at the bone, the humanity at the core, and buoyed by joy." —Beverly Swerling, author of Bristol House

"A unique and powerful story, Wash tells a chapter of our past that we would rather look away from. Margaret Wrinkle makes sure that we cannot. Her whole life has led up to this book, and she writes it in a sure and captivating voice, augmented by her remarkable pictures." —Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row, Dreamland, and Paradise Alley

Customer Reviews

Great story and well written.
Mary Little
Some folks feel like a deep pool and you can drop anything in there and you aint got to worry about it coming back at you some kind of way, Pallas was like that.
Kinder teacher
I have interest in the time of which the story takes place but I just cannot seem to get interested in the character.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on February 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Wash is an examination of slavery -- more specifically, the breeding of slaves as if they were horses -- from a variety of perspectives. Although some of the novel is narrated in the third person, the text is frequently divided into sections that tell the story from an individual character's point of view. Wash (more formally known as Washington) is a slave whose service as a stud is made available to other slave owners. James Richardson owns Wash, having purchased his mother, Mena, when she was pregnant. Mena's story is told by Wash and by Thompson, who leased her from Richardson. Thompson's son, Eli, fleshes out the story of Wash's youth. Pallas, a midwife who works on a neighboring farm, is Wash's lover of choice.

Wash is both a riveting portrait of inhumanity and a life-affirming story about healing. From its vivid description of manacled captives aboard ships to the art of branding the face of a runaway slave, from Pallas' administration of herbs to cure Wash's fever to the mixture of love and spiritualism that restores Pallas after three years of sexual abuse, the novel captures all points along the spectrum of good and evil. The nature of freedom -- freedom of the mind versus freedom of the body -- is one of the book's driving themes. Another is the difficulty of understanding, and the risk of error in judging, a person whose life you have not lived. For Pallas and Wash, and even for Richardson, the novel is a story of survival and growth.

The novel begins near Nashille in 1823, moves back in time to North Carolina, then returns to Tennessee and again moves forward. Richardson, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a failed general in the War of 1812, is now a farmer, a land developer (he's building a new town called Memphis), and a breeder of slaves.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By M. Estock on February 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a born-and-raised southerner, I know authentic southern speech patterns, and Ms. Wrinkle is spot-on with the nuances of her characters' authentic conversations. She gives her characters personal dignity, never pandering or resorting to "shucking and jiving" Southern stereotypes, making them both believable and compelling.

While the period she writes about was the most painful and shameful era of the south, she nonetheless presents her characters as flesh and blood imperfect humans struggling to cope with the world in which they find themselves. Parts of the story were difficult to read, many were uplifting.

Overall, it was worth the trip, and I believe I now know and understand so much more about the Southern culture I was born into and how it was shaped.
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42 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Lizzy Lessard on February 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
(I'm using the terms "negroes" and "white folk" because it's what the author uses in the book.)

Wash is both a fascinating and disturbing historical novel set after the Revolutionary War in Memphis, TN. This book challenges some of the stereotypes of slaveholders and slaves and paints a seemingly accurate picture of what these people could have been like. The book never does give a good answer as to why negroes were slaves and white folk were the owners.

My favorite character in the book is Richardson. He reminds me of Schindler in the opening scenes of Schindler's list. Richardson is a businessman who uses slaves because free labor is the best when trying to dig one's self out of debt. Richardson feeds and clothes his slaves adequately, but because it's cheaper to keep slaves healthy than to pay to nurse slaves back to health or buy new ones. He grants them more freedom than some slave owners yet he reasons that he doesn't want to stress himself over micromanaging. Does he change his stance on slavery, well, that you have to read to find out.

Wash was a very unusual character. His situation is sympathetic and he's treated by crap by several white folk throughout his life, however he has a mean temper. He's quick to strike at people, especially women and I have trouble retaining my sympathy when he's such a mean individual. Wash's duty for Richardson adds to this womanizer personality, since he's a stud. Richardson decided to breed Wash because of his strong attributes. I think the concept of forced breeding disturbed me more than the slavery. I mean, some of these woman Wash had to take by force in order to impregnate them. It's just awful. I'm not sure whether to be mad at Richardson for making him do this or be mad at Wash for doing it.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By K. Leask on February 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Along with a very few number of books, the cover of "Wash" by Margaret Wrinkle jumped out at me. I don't believe in judging a book by its cover, but I knew when I saw the front of "Wash" that this was a masterpiece, front to back. The cover did not disappoint what lay on the inside.

The book bounces back and forth between certain time periods and several different characters, mainly Richardson, Wash and Pallas. The first part (includes seven different parts) is the explanation of Wash's mother coming over from Africa and eventually is birth in America. If the reader has ever seen the movie "Amistad" then they'll know what the journey was like for captured Africans; kept having flashes of those scenes while reading the beginning.

The later majority tells of Wash's life from his early years to his eventual role as a "stud negro" on Richardson's farm. It always boggles my mind at how people were treated in slavery and this book really puts it out there in black and white, raw and to the core. Got nauseous once or twice, and I love it when books like this bring up so much emotional and physical feelings. The author delivers it in pure poetic form, providing very little dialogue on purpose, since it is the very soul of the characters that are speaking. They can simply look at one another and those glances speak sentences. Touch transfers emotions and unspoken words as well. There is just no way I can explain the spirit of this book. It's so unique, so beautiful. You dance around the words, soar above the skies with the poetry. I wish it were spring, because the way the author describes the characters in nature, it makes me want to go lie in a sunny field, or wade in a creek or the ocean, see the wind in the trees like Wash did, or stroll through the woods and swamps like Pallas did.
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