Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Description from Harper Collins:

An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses

wench \'wench\ n. from Middle English "wenchel," 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.

My Thoughts:
Wench tells the story of four black, enslaved women during 1852-1854 in the years before the Civil War. Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu all visit Tawawa House a summer retreat in Xenia, Ohio with their slave owners. The southern white men vacation there every summer with their black slave mistresses openly. The novel is narrated mainly through the eyes of Lizzie who is a slave mistress to Master Drayle from Tennessee. The ladies have become accustomed to this summer excursion and develop a friendship with each other as they return each year. Mawu is the newer addition to the group and the most unhappy with her situation. Most of the women have come to a sort of acceptance of their life situations and know the ramifications of what could happen if they disobey their owners. Things change when Mawu talks about running away and becoming a "free" slave after they learn that Ohio allows slaves to be free and is a "free territory".

Each women learns to examine what it would mean for them to escape and leave behind everything they value most especially children, family and friends. They also must confront the reality that escaping would also free them from the emotional and physical abuses they suffer at the hands of their masters. Although, some felt emotional connections to their masters.

This was a hard book to read as many situations are so degrading and quite brutal for these female and male slaves. I have read several fictional books related to slavery and each shares a different perspective. I know that slavery itself was brutal, it is reality and it is a part of history that should not be forgotten.  Wench sheds a fictional light on the historical truth of a resort in Xenia Ohio where southern slaveholders brought their enslaved mistresses. It made me wonder if some of the slaveholders actually loved their mistresses as they treated them in some ways as their wives but still as property. Wench showed the beauty of the friendships between the slaves, both men and women and how they would sacrifice for each other and learn tragically the importance of their own humanity.

Wench is a book that will engage you and touch your soul. You will find yourself turning the pages quickly to find out what happens next. It is a novel that will stay with you and force you to ponder the moral complexities of life, of slavery and humanity.

Check out the authors website for more information about Wench, here.

For Book Clubs, a Reading Group Guide with discussion questions for Wench is here.

Listen to an interview with the author on NPR, here.

Disclosure: Thanks to Harper Collins for providing a copy of this book for review. I am an Amazon and Indiebound associate.


  1. I have a copy of this book on my shelf at home and now I just want to pull it out and read it now! Thanks for the review.

  2. I never knew that slave owners vacationed with their mistresses like that. I really want to read this book.

  3. Wow, this sounds like a powerful story. I love American historical fiction and this one sounds like a worthy read.

  4. This has been on my tbr list for a while - now to find the time to read it. I will eventually :) Nice review, Bonnie.

  5. Wow! This sounds like a fascinating book. I had not ever heard of it before. Your review was great!

  6. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time now. I need to dust it off and read it after your review.

  7. Thanks for the review Bonnie. I have this book on my Wish List and now you have given me an incentive to push it to the top of the list. Thanks for all the reviews you always share with us! Have a great day!

  8. I have this book on my shelves. I just need to find time to read it!

    Thanks for the review.

  9. I can't wait to read this one. I love that the place where this was set is now a college for African Americans!

  10. Great review. Yet another book on my shelf that I desperately want to get to.


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