Here’s MY cover for this book…different from the book’s real cover.
THIS cover tells you, immediately, the theme and genre of “WENCH…” historical fiction about our pre-Civil War period…a period that history books cover only so far. It takes place, primarily, at an American resort in Ohio…a northern state where our protagonists, who are slaves, come into contact with black men and women who are free. Zoom in on Lizzie, a slave on Nathan Drayle’s Tennessee plantation in the south, where slavery was a given. Through her eyes, the author brings to life a little-known piece of American history: the fact that white slave owners not only kept black women as sex slaves, (something we already knew,) but that they also elevated them in a way that sometimes surpassed the roles of their own white wives, traveling with them each summer to a vacation resort near Xenia, Ohio…a real place…Tawawa House…(a place that eventually became part of the Underground Railroad network,) where they could have some private time away from judging eyes.
It’s the story of four slave mistresses…”wenches,” who become friends at Tawawa House. They contemplate freedom, learn each other’s stories and deepest fears. The relationship described between the slave masters and slave women is one that’s barely been explored in other writings. Perkins-Valdez shows the different ways a woman’s life in these circumstances could have looked, while showing the undeniable cruelty involved in any iteration of this system of human bondage. I marveled at the power, strength and courage of these women and was grateful for the safe haven they found in true friendship.
What I found painfully profound was that these women vacationed in a free state, yet boarded the coach back to their enslaved southern states each summer. The love for their families, children and other slaves back home outweighed their temptation for freedom just beyond the resorts boundaries.
This book is not romantic (even though Lizzie shared a bed with her master each summer and they behaved, openly, as a couple,) nor is it preachy… it’s just a true picture of what was. “WENCH” scrubbed away all my whitewashed history lessons and brought me face to face with the wrenching complexities that constituted slave life…your child is not your own and can be taken from you at any time with no explanation or recourse. Your body and your life are not your own. “WENCH” challenged me to think deeply about this uncomfortable topic and those four women will stay with me for quite a while. If you have an interest in this topic, Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s “WENCH” is a wonderfully modern twist on the historical novel.