Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
2010, 290 pages
Set in the U.S. in the early 1850s, this book tells the story of Lizzie, Sweet, Reenie, and Mawu - slaves who go on vacation with their masters to Tawawa House, a resort in Ohio renowned for its water. All four women are mistresses to their masters, who don't bring their wives along for the trip. Not far from the resort lies a hotel for freed blacks, and a visit there broaches the idea of escape among the slaves, each of whom have their own motives for running or staying. Lizzie, the centerpiece of the novel, struggles with the decision of whether to stay out of her love for her master, Drayle, and for her children, who are still on the plantation; or to run away to freedom.
This book tells an important story about the history of slavery in the U.S. From each of the women's stories, we learn about a different aspect of the cruelty and heartbreaking nature of slavery. I don't read much fiction about slavery, so although technically I knew about the kind of stories this book tells beforehand, it was still eye-opening and heartbreaking to read about it in this book, when I was invested in the characters and frustrated by their fates.
Lizzie, one of the slaves, is the central figure in the novel. We follow her through three visits to the resort in Ohio and also learn about the history of her relationship with her master, Drayle, and watch the changing status of Lizzie's children on the plantation. Although I found Lizzie a little hard to relate to and didn't quite understand all of her decisions, the her relationship with Drayle and her struggles with the decision of whether or not to run away is a very important part of the book.
Overall, I would say that this is a good book but not a great one. I'm glad I read it because the story that it tells is an important one, but I didn't love the story and characters for their own sake.