Entries in Dolen Perkins-Valdez (1)

Wednesday
Jan082014

#50in2014 Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

I could almost tell you every detail of the week I'd Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower. I can tell you how many hours of sleep I missed in the three days it took me to read Alice Walker's The Color Purple. These books are extremely important to me, because each book introduced me to a character or cast of characters that looked like me, and had personalities, histories and emotions that went far beyond helping burgeoning white twenty-something discover his own faults. There were black women in these stories, coming of age and being defined by their own decisions and not the decisions of their lovers and mothers. I wasn't sure I'd ever get to read another book liken that again until I read Wench.

Wench by it's summery alone would seem likely to be a sad story. The main character is a slave named Lizzie who becomes her Master's mistress in her early teens which makes her life as a slave easier in some aspects and harder in others. Lizzie during the course of the book is forced to witness brutalities to her family and friends on physical and emotional levels and has to come of age and figure out her method of survival in a and place where she isn't seen as human.

The book doesn't shy away from the brutality of slavery. Lizzie's Master, Drayle, let's her call him by his name, and convinces her that he actually treats her well. His manipulation is apparent to the reader from the beginning, especially when the story delves into how Drayle manages to slowly lured Lizzie into being his mistress. When Lizzie's story is juxtaposed against the stories of her friend Mawu, Reenie and Sweet it makes you understand some of the earlier decisions Lizzie makes in the book when Mawu decides she want to try and run away. Lizzie's naivety makes it hard for her to understand how much more difficult it could be for someone else.

The book also doesn't fall into the usual colorism stereotypes a lot of folks have about black women during slavery. Lizzie is a mid-toned to dark girl, and is still brought into the house as a house slave. Mawu is described in the boom ad very fair with bright red hair, and isn't a house slave at all. The other slaves on Dayle's plantation often come to Lizzie when they needed something, including her closest friend Philip.

For me this book did not disappoint at all. It managed to tell and compelling story and show character growth for a character who's situation is inevitable. It doesn't rely on stereotypes to tell the story. Dolen Perkins-Valdez manages to portray the slavery in a manner that is brutal and effective without being disrespectful to the pain of the characters (Trigger Warning though, because sexual assault does happen in the book). I would definitely recommend that everyone read it.