Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

A wench in 1840s America was a "colored woman of any age; a negress or mulatress, especially one in service." Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the powerful story of four wenches, all of them slaves and mistresses of their southern white masters.

It's inevitable that Wench will be compared to the currently popular book club favorite, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, about black maids in Mississippi during the '60s civil rights era: The Help and Wench, although their stories take place about 100 years apart, are both vivid accounts of critical times in the lives of African Americans.

Having carefully read and enjoyed both books, I thought Wench was the more skillfully written of the two, perhaps because at times Stockett, I felt, pushed her plot a bit to make a point, making some scenes rather unbelievable.

Perkins-Valdez chose as her setting a real place, Tawawa House, an Ohio resort that catered to white men who brought their slave mistresses for summer retreats. That Ohio was a free state made the location compelling for the novel's location, and even more compelling was the talk of abolition, and the talk of war...

The book centers on four vividly realized characters: Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet, who have been summer friends for many years; and Mawu, a new arrival who is strong and brave and wanting to run away.

The book jacket says "...they are bearing witness to the end of an era." This book is important reading, and it's as haunting as Gone with the Wind, Roots, and--yes, The Help.

B&N link

Skunk Cat received this book from the publisher for review.

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