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Wench: A Novel

A book by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

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Will You Choose Freedom or Death?

  • Feb 21, 2010
  • by
Dolen Perkins-Valdez makes a formidable debut in the tale of four women poised on the edge of slavery and freedom in Wench. Based on meticulous research, the author presents Tawawa House, which has oral history as a resort where southern slave owners brought their families during the summer months to Ohio. Using artistic license, Perkins-Valdez imagines the slave masters bringing their slave mistresses where they could openly be with them.

Lizzie believes what she and Drayle, her master, has is a love match. She has two children by him and it is her hope that he will free his children. Reenie, the oldest in the group, is resigned to a life of misuse and servitude while Sweet is docile and fragile, forever connected to her master. Then there is Mawu, fiery, wild and rebellious, she provokes the other women to dare think of freedom as a reality. For three summers these women bond in a way they cannot do on their respective plantations in Tennessee and Louisiana because they are the masters' "women."

The Northerners are appalled at the blatant mannerisms of the southern men who brazenly parade the slave women. For the women, being among free blacks and so close to freedom gives them both courage and brings on their greatest fears. Phillip, another slave of Drayle's, finds himself in love with a free woman. Glory, a Quaker and abolitionist, offers her services for escape but when Mawu plans to leave she experiences a betrayal of the worst kind and a public flogging.

The language is easy and fluid as the author paints the Ohio landscape with a wide brush of setting, a sense of place and time, and characters who stir a myriad of emotions in the reader. Slavery is a harsh life and freedom, no matter how elusive, may be the desired outcome. However, the dynamics are not always black and white and I found myself cautioning against judgment. Does one dare chance freedom and leave your children behind? Will a man who claims to love you grant his children freedom? Perkins- Valdez, a professor of writing and post doctoral fellow, has written another chapter of slave history that is accessible and not muddled in social commentary and controversy. I recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction and slave era novels.

Dera R. Williams
APOOO BookClub

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More Wench: A Novel reviews
review by . May 25, 2010
This well-written historical novel looks at the lives of four slave women accompanying their masters on a summer holiday to free Ohio. The novel focuses on the women, the relationships they form, and the way they deal with the possibility of escaping to freedom. I was drawn into the stories of the women, though would have liked more attention paid to the backstories of characters other than Lizzie. I do believe the author did an excellent job getting into the mindset of these characters, trying …
review by . February 04, 2010
When I first started WENCH, it was like trying to read a book in a foreign language.     Yes, there was slave dialect used, but that isn't what I'm talking about (the dialect did not make it difficult to read as some books set in that era do).     What I mean is that while I read each scene I had to work to actively process what I was reading -- to frame it so that I could understand it.    WENCH is artfully told, beginning in the summer …
review by . February 12, 2010
For several years now Lizzie has visited Tawawa House with Drayle in the summer. Tawawa House is like most resorts with its idyllic setting and Southern hospitality. But what is especially ideal at Tawawa are its quaint cabins that surround the property providing the isolation and privacy needed for the Southern gentlemen who vacation with their black enslaved mistresses.    Lizzie, Reenie and Sweet know that as long as they are their masters favorite, they will meet up in the …
About the reviewer
Dera R Jones Williams ()
Ranked #984
Dera is a writer, editor, genealogist, writing mentor, researcher, and family historian, and she is active in local literary and national literary circles. She is the keeper of family stories, archivist … more
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About this book


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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ISBN-10: 006170654X
ISBN-13: 978-0061706547
Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Amistad
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