Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reading List: Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

I can admit when I'm wrong. And when a friend recommended Wench to me last year, I passed on it, and even when I saw it at the National Book Festival last summer, I didn't want to read another sad, slave narrative. But it did have a pretty cover (and yes, against the age-old advice, I do judge a book by its cover). This month, my bookclub picked it as our selection. And I was so wrong - it was not just another sad, slave narrative.

Let me clarify. It is sometimes sad. And it is about slaves. But its different. Wench covers the three summers that four "wenches" [the slave mistresses of Southern slaveowners] get together at a Ohio summer resort with their masters. Each woman has her own story of how she became the selected mistress and how she accepts or rejects her position. There is nothing clearly black and white about the story - not even the people.

During their summers up north, the slaves see something that they can hardly imagine - free Blacks, who are not only not owned by anybody, but have jobs they choose, money of their own, and even their own vacation resort. Its enough to make the slaves want more - if not physically, then mentally. One of my favorite pieces -one of the women thinks about how she heard that in Canada, Blacks and Whites can get married - and then wonders if there's a place beyond Canada. I love it for the desire to dream bigger than anything you can imagine.

A favorite line - If I was allowed, I reckon I'd love myself, too. There's nothing holding us back now, so we have no reason not to love ourselves. Make choices that puts you first, that shows yourself love. You are allowed.

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