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The Wedding Gift Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
In this stunning debut, Marlen Suyapa Bodden effortlessly transports the reader to 1852 Alabama, where slavery and racism may rule the day, but everything isn't as black and white as it may seem. Sixteen-year-old Sarah Campbell is a housemaid to her half-sister Clarissa. Both daughters of plantation owner Mr. Allen, they secretly reject the roles they are expected to play. Sarah yearns for the day when she can escape slavery, while Clarissa is disinterested in her father's wishes for her to marry young and become mistress of her own plantation. But then Clarissa unexpectedly becomes pregnant before she's wed-changing the trajectory of both girls' lives. Bodden weaves a page-turning tangled web of misogyny, greed, scandal and violence in this powerful story about races colliding against the backdrop of America's darkest era.
In her first novel, lawyer Bodden draws on an immense amount of historical knowledge to present a tale about life in pre–Civil War Alabama that is as educational as it is compelling. Clarissa is the legitimate daughter of Cornelius Allen, a wealthy plantation owner. Sarah is also Allen’s daughter, the product of his long-standing extramarital affair with Emmeline, his beautiful house slave. Sarah narrates the novel in turns with Theodora, Allen’s wife, who is frustrated by her own lack of agency. Theodora secretly teaches Sarah to read and write, sharpening Sarah’s hunger for liberty. When flippant Clarissa gets married, Sarah is given to her as a gift, sparking events that upend life at the Allen plantation. Bodden writes with delicacy, allowing layers of meaning to unfold slowly, and her portrayal of the horrors of slave life is both unflinching and purposeful. The connections developed between Clarissa and Sarah illustrate the complex sorrows of tyranny, and the ecstasy of triumphing over oppression. An inspiring read for historical-fiction fans, especially those who like strong female narrators. --Amber Peckham
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Once I came to the part where I had left off, I simply could not put the book down. I did get a little tired of the repetition, because the stories are being told by Theodora Allen, the slave owner's wife, and Sarah Campbell, who is Mr. Allen's child by the house maid. Although, there are different recollections I felt at times it was annoying.
This was a very good book, from start to finish. I noticed some of the other reviewers were surprised by the ending, and part of it I was not! I won't give it away though. It would be nice to have a sequel though to see if Sarah ever heard from her family again.
Great Read if you enjoy historical fiction you will love it.
Strong, female characters drive the action and development of the story in "The Wedding Gift". Theodora Allen, plantation mistress, is an intellectual. She silently suffers Cornelius Allen's infidelity and his cruelty. Rebelling quietly and knowing that Sarah will learn to read and write, Theodora allows Sarah to be present during Clarissa's lessons. In order to protect her daughters and potentially win their freedom, Emmeline tolerates a forced relationship with Cornelius and endures it throughout the novel. Aware of Cornelius's physical and emotional abuse of Theodora, Emmeline comforts and supports her. Sarah has planned her escape from slavery since her youth; she takes matters into her own hands rather than waiting to be freed. Only Clarissa seems to be submissive; her rebellion and strength are not revealed until the novel ends. Male characters in "The Wedding Gift", with few exceptions, are self-centered and morally corrupt.
Marlen Suypapa Bodden's writing moves the novel rapidly through the years and the lives of the characters. She does not sugarcoat the violence or savagery associated with the plantation system and slavery. Rape scenes are not graphic, but leave no doubt in the reader's mind that the abuse occurred. Only the last few chapters of "The Wedding Gift" slowed and required an effort to continue reading. However, the final revelation was a complete surprise and made even those slower portions of the novel worthwhile. I will be recommending "The Wedding Gift" to those who enjoy a well written historical novel that is character driven and is not a cookie-cutter story.
I wish I could like this book more than I did. I found the story and the plot very engaging. I finished reading it quickly and was always interested in finding out what would happen next. On the other hand, the writing is really not great. It feels very much like the author and editor should have made this a rough draft and put substantially more work into it before putting it out there for consumption.
For instance, the author spends the first portion of the book letting the narrator (a slave) explain the times that she realized slavery is bad. Now, there's probably not a lot of debate on this point, and the stories would have been much more effective interwoven into the story instead of told in a series of explanations (overall in the book, the reader was "told" too many things and "shown" too few). The main characters would frequently have something happen and you would read something to the effect of "I picked up a letter and couldn't believe what I saw." But then be left in the dark about what she saw so that the author could get her shocking pay off in the epilogue that she's clearly counting on. I felt like the author started the book with the shocking twists she wanted to include in the last 2 pages and then made the rest of the story fit from there. 1 bombshell at the end is fine, but do you really want 4 or 5 bombshells? And while I could see the author dropped a couple hints for one or two of them, more came out of absolutely no where (and two made no sense whatsoever given the place, time period, and previous characterization). This irked me.
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