Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Wench: A Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez -- Book Review
Superb. Daring. Eloquently written. These are all words to describe Wench: A Novel by first time novelist, Dolen Perkins-Valdez.
Wench is the story of four black enslaved women who become friends over a series of summers spent with their masters who vacation at Tawawa House in the free territory of Ohio.
Lizzie, Sweet, and Reenie are regulars at Tawawa House, and they don't ponder the question of freedom often; but when Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking about running away, things change. Running away means leaving behind everything they hold dear--friends and families in the South. It's a difficult decision despite their circumstances.
When several tragedies occur at Tawawa House, these friends learn a great deal about themselves and the emotional and psychological aspects of the Peculiar Institution whose end is just beginning.
You simply cannot read Wench without being touched by these women's stories. While the book focuses more on Lizzie's life, her relationship with her master, Drayle, and her relationship with Mawu, the Tawawa House and what occurs there binds all four women together, making their stories inseparable.
Perkins-Valdez does an excellent job of blending fact and fiction in this story set between the years of 1842 and 1854, a time in which Harriet Tubman would escape slavery and start The Underground Rail, where she gains the title of "Moses" for leading her people to freedom.
The reader, while perhaps unable to truly identify with the plight these women face, still is easily able to sympathize with Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu. Some of them have already seen their families sold off and hold little hope of ever seeing their loved ones again. As a woman and mother, the violation they endure, how they are dehumanized, and how they are forced to put their desires aside so that one day their children might live free, drew me into their lives.
Lizzie's story is perhaps the most heartwrenching, because the decisions she makes are for reasons the reader might not be able to understand.
Wench is a powerful, extraordinary piece of work. It has already gained the attention of Oprah, and it wouldn't surprise me if we saw this book adapted to the small or big screen. It would also not surprise me if Wench garners Perkins-Valdez numerous awards.
Author: Dolen Perkins-Valde