Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Genre: historical fiction
Year Published: 2010
counts towards: Historical Fiction Challenge and 2010 Resolutions (read at least five 2010 books)
Summary from book jacket:
Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black enslaved mistresses. It’s their open secret.
Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don’t bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory–but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.
To run is to leave behind everything these women value most–friends and families still down South–and for some it also means escaping the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances–all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era.
An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.
Something I feel I should add to this summary is about the main characters: Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu. All four of these women were slave mistresses to their masters. And all four of them had very different relationships with those masters. Lizzie cannot stop loving her master, Drayle, as he has always treated her well and their two children–his only two, as his wife could not bear children–keep her from doing anything bad towards him. Sweet does not mind her master, having given him 5 children, one a stillborn. Reenie does not like her master,”Sir”, who is technically her step-brother, for various reasons. And Mawu absolutely LOATHES her master, Tip, and does anything possible to get him to leave her alone. As all four women spend summers in the free state of Ohio, they are all tempted, in varying degrees and ways, to run. Of course I’m not going to spoil the ending–however, how I have described the women can give you a preview of what happens.
This novel was amazing! I love it. One of the first things that drew my attention to this novel is the location of the majority of the novel: Xenia, Ohio. I’m a proud Ohioan and, while I don’t live in Xenia, I love that this novel takes place in my own backyard, as the saying goes. I have been to Xenia–in fact, my mom grew up about 30 miles away in another small Southern Ohio town. My cousin was married in Xenia. SO, I had an interest in the location. It’s a bit of state history I didn’t know existed until now. The Author’s Note at the end of this novel states: “Tawawa Resort did exist…it opened in 1852 and closed in 1855. It i documented by historians that Souther slaveholders frequented the resort with slave entourages, and that these visits were a reason for the decline of the resort’s popularity. The presence of slave concubines is part of local oral history.”
I’m also beginning to love this time in American History. Unfortunately for me, my college courses in American History ended with the beginning of the Civil War or began with the end, called “Reconstruction”. So, the Civil War as a whole has escaped from me during my past four years. But I am getting more interested in it and am even taking a Civil War course online in the fall semester at university. (Yes, I graduated, but to stay on my father’s health insurance I need to take one university course.) And I’m very excited for it. My favorite war in American History is WWII, but I like the Holocaust most as a part of it (which doesn’t have much to do with the US), so I’m glad that I’m beginning to become interested in a war that was only American.
I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS NOVEL FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, SLAVERY, OR RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MASTER AND SLAVE/SERVANT.