Many books have been written about the South and slavery, but “Wench” puts a little different view on the subject.
“Wench” deals with fact-based history and adds the thoughts and emotions of someone who could have experienced it firsthand.
The story is set in 1852 at a resort in Ohio called “Tawawa House.” This resort is used as a summer retreat for Southern plantation owners and their slave mistresses. This part of the story is based on actual documented facts.
From this, author Dolen Perkins-Valdez weaves a fictional heart-wrenching tale of four slaves mistresses and their “masters.” She explores the complex relationship of each slave and their reactions to the people around them and the events unfolding at the time.
The story focuses on Lizzie, her interactions with two other slave mistresses, Reenie and Sweet, and their encounter with a fiery red-headed slave named Mawu their second summer at the resort.
Lizzie sees her situation different from the others. She believes herself in love with her “master,” Drayle, and that he loves her. She has bore his only two children, one a son that bears his name. Drayle has taught her to read, has moved her into his main house, he treats her kinder than any of his other slaves, and he takes her to Tawawa House without his white wife.
Lizzie believes he will one day set their children free and they won’t grow up as slaves. She holds fast to this belief and hasn’t considered seeking freedom for herself when at Tawawa House even though there are freed slaves nearby.
A series of events come about changing the lives of all who associate with Tawawa House. The reader is taken on a journey of suspension, betrayal, longing, and denial as the final days of Tawawa House play out.
Ms. Perkins-Valdez has done an excellent job of combining fact and fiction into this emotionally charged story. This debut novel could easily be turned into a series following the lives of Lizzie and her children long after Tawawa House.
On a historical note: The real resort was closed in 1855 and sold to the Cincinnati Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They opened the Ohio African University here in 1856. Today Wilberforce University is located on the site of Tawawa House. Wilberforce is the nation’s oldest, private, predominantly African-American university.