Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review & Book Tour Stop - Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 293
Date: January 5, 2010
Publisher: Amistad (An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

Book Description:
Situated in the free state of Ohio, Tawawa House offers respite from the summer heat. A beautiful, inviting house surrounded by a dozen private cottages, the resort is favored by wealthy Southern white men who vacation there, accompanied by their enslaved mistresses.
Regular visitors Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet have forged an enduring friendship. They look forward to their annual reunion and the opportunity it affords them to talk over the changes in their lives and their respective plantations. The subject of freedom is never spoken aloud until the red-maned, spirited Mawu arrives and voices her determination to escape. To run is to leave behind the friends and families trapped at home. For some, it also means tearing the strong emotional and psychological ties that bind them to their masters.
When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet soon learn tragic lessons, that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the cruelest circumstances as they bear witness to the end of an era.
Is it possible to love a book that explores the difficult issues of slavery, violence, dehumanization, and loss? Yes! I must say that reading this book was very timely for me. I just finished teaching a US History class in which one of my students was adamant that there were slaves and their masters who fell in love and that their masters didn't exploit them because they loved each other. I tried to explain that such a relationship would be a lot more complicated than that--that issues of power and powerlessness, of social acceptability, and so on would make things a lot more difficult than anything we could imagine in our lives today. This book underlines all of the reasons why I struggled with this student's assertions. It portrays the master-slave relationship in a realistic and very believable way that truly took my breath away.

Wench explores the emotional and psychological complexities that slave mistresses faced during the Antebellum period in the American South. They were given favored status, sometimes their children were given special treatment by their fathers/masters, and there were probably some who even believed that they loved their masters, as main character Lizzie did. But they also occupied a position on the plantation that could be quite lonely. They didn't quite fit in with the other slaves because they received special treatment, and they were not on the same level as their white masters.

Much of this story takes place at Tawawa House, an Ohio resort where a number of slave owners vacationed with their slave mistresses (a location that actually existed). It is in this place that these women finally feel like they fit in somewhere because they can relate to each other and are able to bond based on their shared experience. But even their shared experience varies--Lizzie believes she is in love with her kind master, while her friends Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu suffer from rape, incest, and abuse at the hands of their masters. Being on holiday in a free state of course brings thoughts of escape and freedom closer to the surface. And that was the second struggle the women faced--the decision of whether to run away or not. For some that decision was easy to make. For others, the decision was a difficult one, as it would mean leaving their children behind and risking their lives in the process.

Although the reader gets to know the four women and their struggles, the story mainly revolves around Lizzie and her remarkable transformation. In the beginning, she doesn't even want to consider escape because of the love she feels for her master and for her children. She hopes one day to convince him to free their children from slavery. But as time passes, she becomes disillusioned with the life she and her children are living. She sees the evils that other masters perpetrate on their slaves and she begins to realize that her master will probably never free their children. Eventually, she begins to consider escape, but you'll have to read the book to find out if she actually does or not.*wink*

This is an excellent book. Ms. Perkins-Valdez has done a superb job in her research. The historical period and the people portrayed in it feel authentic. The writing is beautifully descriptive. I don't know what else I can say--I liked everything about this book. I highly recommend it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars. Excellent! It doesn't get any better than this!

**Versailles and More is hosting an author interview and giveaway of this book! The winner will be chosen on January 24, 2010, at midnight PST.**

About the Author:
Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s fiction and essays The Kenyon Review, African American Review, PMS:  PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, Richard Wright Newsletter, and SLI:  Studies in Literary Imagination.  She is a 2009 finalist for the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Award.  A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Dolen splits her time between Seattle and Washington, DC.  She is a faculty member of the University of Puget Sound where she teaches Creative Writing.  Wench is her first book of fiction.

You can visit Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s website at www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com, her blog at www.dolen.blogspot.com or connect with her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dolen. You can also read an interview with Dolen at The Hot Author Report.

To purchase the book, visit Amazon or an independent bookseller of your choice.


Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s WENCH VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ‘10 officially began on January 4th and will end on January 29. You can visit Ms. Perkins-Valdez’s blog stops at www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com during the month of January to find out more about this great book and its talented author.

Source: Special thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for including me as a part of this tour and a big thank you to the author for providing me with a review copy of this book.


This book qualifies for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge because it is such an accurate portrayal of the experiences and emotions of slave women in the American South. It also portrays the ways that these women, who had so little power over their lives, sought to control their own destinies.

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