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Wench: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – January 25, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 364 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history, chronicling the lives of four slave women—Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu—who are their masters' mistresses. The women meet when their owners vacation at the same summer resort in Ohio. There, they see free blacks for the first time and hear rumors of abolition, sparking their own desires to be free. For everyone but Lizzie, that is, who believes she is really in love with her master, and he with her. An extended flashback in the middle of the novel delves into Lizzie's life and vividly explores the complicated psychological dynamic between master and slave. Jumping back to the final summer in Ohio, the women all have a decision to make—will they run? Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez's ability to bring the unfortunate past to life. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Four slave women accompany their masters to a resort in the free state of Ohio in the mid-1850s. Lizzie actually loves Drayle, the father of her two children—a brown-skinned boy named for his father and a girl white enough to pass. Reenie is the half sister of her owner, a cruel man who passes her along to the resort manager. Sweet is pregnant and has a relatively amiable relationship with her master, while Mawu is a wild red-haired woman bent on freedom from a cruel and violent owner. Frustrations mount as they consider their options, tempted to take advantage of the help offered by free blacks and a Quaker woman. But they are guilt-ridden about the prospect of leaving their children behind. The women rely on each other for support as they come together for three summers, catching up on their lives of woe and occasional joy. Drawing on research about the resort that eventually became the first black college, Wilberforce University, the novel explores the complexities of relationships in slavery and the abiding comfort of women’s friendships. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061706566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061706561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (364 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. *USA Today* called the book "deeply moving" and "beautifully written." *People* called it "a devastatingly beautiful account of a cruel past." *O, The Oprah Magazine* chose it as a Top Ten Pick of the Month, and NPR named it a top 5 book club pick of 2010. Dolen's fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, StorySouth, and elsewhere. In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was also awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Dolen received a DC Commission on the Arts Grant for her second novel BALM. Early reviews are unanimously positive. Publishers Weekly writes "Her spare, lyrical voice is unsentimental yet compassionate." Library Journal writes "No sophomore slump is in evidence here. Readers who were captivated by Perkins-Valdez's first novel, Wench, will be intrigued by the post-Civil War lives of three Southern transplants to Chicago." Dolen teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine and is a popular guest for Black History and Women's Month programs. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, Dolen lives in Washington, DC with her family.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dolen Perkins-Valdez delivers the gripping tale of primary characters, Lizzy, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu's, lives as slave maids and mistresses during the mid-19th century. Although from separate southern plantations, the mistresses vacation with their white masters to a free-state resort in Ohio each summer, forming a sisterly bond and developing relationships with each other.

Suffering emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their "owners," the women grow weary, often dreaming of their and their children's freedom. While each of the women has a unique relationship with her respective master, Lizzy, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu share the bond of slavery and mistreatment. Despite the seeming perks each wench receives over all the other slaves at their home plantations, each woman still finds herself living in misery. This story brings readers into the heart-wrenching decisions, painstaking moments and emotional turmoil endured by each of the women as they struggle to save themselves spiritually, physically and emotionally. They walk a fine line of favor with their masters. Should the women stay, or should they run, when the opportunity is staring them right in the face?

This story is unlike any other story I've read about slave women and children. Yes, I've heard the stories and knew these type things happened but never have I been drawn into the minds of the women that have lived this life. Themes of particular interest to me while reading this story were the relationship between the master's wife, Fran, and Lizzy. Lizzy's character is also of the most interest to me in that she was quite indecisive. I understood her indecision. I felt these women's pain and suffering.
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A Kid's Review on January 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I could not put this book down. Rarely does a book capture my attention the way Wench did. After I started reading this book I left my chores undone, ignored the work on my desk and stayed up late at night reading. I have such mixed feelings about the pleasure I took in this book because it covers a horrible topic. Yet the author took such care telling the stories of four slave women forced into sexual relationships with their master. You must not miss the stories of Lizzie, Sugar, Reenie and Mawu. They share their lives with the reader and you come to care deeply about them before the reading is done. What the white masters did to these women is terrible yet the women handle it grace and strength that I myself do not have. My only hope is that the author plans a sequel because the story is just too good to end.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Dolen Perkins-Valdez does a great job portraying the setting and the characters - providing details that bring the story to life, without being superlative. As I was reading, I shed several tears. I smiled some too - and, many times, I felt a host of mixed emotions concurrently. Perkins-Valdez does a great job of showing the complexity of humanity in her characters - allowing her readers to think about themselves in a very real manner. The novel compelled me to think about several issues in more intricate ways. The words led me to think about history and slavery, but also love and strength, in subtle yet powerful ways. I read a lot, and I have written a good deal too. I know that this much vitality in a novel is hard to find. I found Wench to be very well-done. I had a hard time putting it down. My only complaint is that I wasn't ready for it to end.
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Format: Hardcover
This was a story of four slave women owned and used by their Masters. Enslaved by them with no way out. Being used for the children they made with these Men their slave owners, "Masters". Every summer for four summers straight they met in a resort town in Ohio before the Civil War started. Southern slave owners would bring their black mistresses and enjoy the summer months among free blacks and slaves of the North.

The four women became close as they all shared the same inevitable life with their slave owners. Three of the women seemingly content to live their lives as they have, one of them ready to break free from the chains that enslaved her. Her influence on the other women lead to death, mistrust, self doubt, self preservation, and freedom.

It was sad, touching, empowering, and it made me angry and hurt my heart to know that these men would keep women like chattel love them one minute and then chain them up the next to make sure they wouldn't run away. They would take them to a place where they were seen as equals as a couple, but at the least bit of trouble they were beaten and abused. Because they were nothing but slaves.

I wonder if I could have lived at that time. How strong would I have been? Would my children who could "pass as white" one day living in the masters house and then at the first sign of trouble be sent back to the slave quarters to live like the rest, could they have survived?

Could I have left my children behind and headed to a life of freedom with out them? Or would I have stayed trying to give my children the best I could with what I had? Questions that still haunt me after reading this book.
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