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Wench: A Novel Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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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.)
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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
Top customer reviews
The story involves a group of four female friends, who are slaves, and their vacations to the "free country" up North. All of the women are involved sexually with their Masters, and the protagonist, Lizzie, is in love with her Master, Drayle. The women are constantly tempted to run for freedom, especially when they discover free blacks in Dayton, and are befriended by a white Quaker woman. They experience an extreme of unpleasant situations and adversity; I began to really ache for their heartaches, but the characters seemed to accept most of the situations as normal--which in itself is heartbreaking.
The only thing that I did not understand was the love Lizzie had for Drayle--I really didn't see a love story there, and I assume I am not supposed to. However, Lizzie seemed more intent on manipulating Drayle for special favors than being in love with him.
Perkins-Valdez uses realistic dialogue and smooth, cadenced narration to create an unforgettable historical fiction novel.
In the state of Ohio, masters bing their black slave mistresses for a vacation. This is a well known fact among both owners and the owned. For some it is a wonderful time, for others it is miserable experience to always be at their masters beck and call.
One summer, four black slave women who are at this resort meet and form a friendship which will stand the test of time and events. Three of the four are fully aware that they are only of use to their masters as long as they are interested in these slave women. The fourth, Liz, truly loves her master and hopes that one day he will give her and their children their freedom.
Then one day while walking they meet a white woman who is very interested in them and even shows them a resort where free black men and women can vacation. Eventually, this woman talks to them about abolition and encourages them to run away from their masters and make their way North. Three of the four are scared to do this since if they are found they could either be subjected to a severe whipping or even death. As one of them tried to escape, it becomes clear to Liz that her master will never give her or their children their freedom and Liz is left to wonder what path to take.
I liked this book but didn't love it the way I have loved other books with a similar theme. I'm not sure why although I didn't find the women seperately that interesting. One part of the book is solely devoted to the begonning relationship between Liz and her master which does allow one to understand a slaves emotions better. The book also gives the reader an opportunity to learn about a seldom known time and place. In the end the women formed wonderful friendships and persevered though all of their tribulations, sometimes because of their camaraderie.(less)