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Wench

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3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  12,997 Ratings  ·  1,855 Reviews
An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses

wench \'wench\ n. from Middle English "wenchel," 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is
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Hardcover, 290 pages
Published January 5th 2010 by Amistad (first published December 16th 2009)
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Tammy Durm Love for their children and other family members was a big reason that kept them, and others, enslaved. Running away from everything they knew and…moreLove for their children and other family members was a big reason that kept them, and others, enslaved. Running away from everything they knew and especially their children would be too hard for most and the odds were against them if they did. Getting pregnant or not was not their choice. So many things to think about. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Will Byrnes
Mar 02, 2016 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
Set in the mid 19th Century, Wench offers a fictionalized account of a very real and strange practice. Southern slaveowners would vacation in a particular Ohio resort and take slave women along as their vacation partners, leaving their wives at home. The story centers on several slave women, their different backgrounds, experiences with slavery and relationships with the masters. All are used sexually, but one, Lizzie, holds actual feelings for her owner.

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Dolen Perkins-Valdez - from her Twitter
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Maegen
Jan 19, 2011 Maegen rated it it was amazing
Wench was a book club choice and I was quite frustrated by it's selection. I hate reading about slavery or anything connected to it. It makes me uncomfortable, sad and angry. Furthermore, the idea that this story focused on the lives and relationships of four slave mistresses turned my stomach. Needless to say, I struggled with this book. It was incredibly difficult for me to get through. I read and put it down so many times that I often thought of not picking it up again, but I kept coming back ...more
Tayari Jones
May 29, 2010 Tayari Jones rated it it was amazing
Today I received my copy of Wench, the new novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I really loved this book. (And what a gorgeous cover!)The novel is set at Tawawa House-- an actual Ohio resort where white plantation owners vacationed with their enslaved mistresses.

I know that there are some readers who are very tired of the American fixation with slave mistresses. I know know where you are coming from. However, this novel is different. For one thing, Wench is the story of four women who are in the same
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Jen
Oct 21, 2012 Jen rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: mainstream chick lit readers who like literary hot pockets
Recommended to Jen by: my middle sister
-Edited 10/21/12-

If you are considering reading this book and are cruising 'round reviews, then consider reading



The Book of Night Women instead. It is infinitely better, although it will break your heart and stomp on the pieces.

*****original review*****

My thoughts: Should a writer take the most boring character and make her tell the story? Should I write that? Probably not. But, damn! I didn't want to hear any more about mealy-mouthed Lizzie. Give me Mawu, crazy assed Mawu, with the black sk
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Zanna
Lizzie is a woman in love, on holiday with her lover, a man married to someone else... or is she? What happens to these phrases when we add that Lizzie is a slave, and her 'lover' is her master? Wench confronts this problem from Lizzie's perspective:
Inside the cottage, Lizzie felt human. She could lift her eyes and speak the English Drayle had taught her. She could run her hands along the edges of things in the parlour – two chairs, a sofa, a wooden table, a tall oil lamp with a milkglass base,
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Jamise
May 30, 2016 Jamise rated it really liked it
I've put off reading this book for such a long time because I just didn't want to read another slave story. But this is far more than the life of slave women in the 1800's. This is a story surrounding the power, strength & courage of four women; the safe haven found in true friendships and ties that bind the afflicted. Most of the story takes place in free Ohio at Tawawa Resort where slavemasters vacationed in the summer with their slave mistresses, leaving their wives behind at home. What I ...more
Bob Schmitz
Jan 29, 2012 Bob Schmitz rated it it was ok
I saw an article that Dolen Perkins-Valdez was speaking about her book here in Durham. I had never heard of her or her book but a book about a resort in Ohio where Southern men brought their slaves as escorts was an interesting topic so my wife and I joined 25 black people and 10 other whites in a local church to hear what she had to say.

Perkins-Valdez had been told by a writing teacher to look for materials in books in obituaries. She didn't like reading obits. She did however run across a foo
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Sheila
Sep 05, 2011 Sheila rated it it was ok
I enjoyed this book, but only up to a point. The subject matter was quite gripping, but I found it an "almost there" book rather than a completely satisfying read. I found the prose a bit "prosy"; flat and straightforward, and not always in a good way. The characters were interesting but did not quite come alive; even Lizzie, the main character, who was the most developed, somehow was not completely well-rounded. The biggest disappointment was the ending, because it made no sense to me. Many loo ...more
Mari Anne
Mar 31, 2011 Mari Anne rated it it was ok
I probably shouldn't have read this so close on the heels of "The Kitchen House". While this novel explores another interesting aspect of Southern antebellum slave life, it wasn't nearly as well done as "The Kitchen House". I am waffling between 2 and 3 stars for this one.

"Wench" explores the lives of four slaves who act as mistresses to their slave owners. They meet up four summers in a row at a Northern resort and the novel explores their lives and situations.

The basic storyline is very intere
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Tara
May 14, 2014 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not just another book retelling the horrors of slavery. Perkins-Valdez brings to life a little-known piece of history, and I'm so glad she did. If she hadn't, the fact that white slave owners not only kept black women as sex slaves, but elevated them in a way that sometimes surpassed the roles of their own white wives, and traveled with them on vacation to a place near Xenia, Ohio, would have disappeared into our tragic American history. The author worked hard to show the complexity of the relat ...more
Cina
Jul 03, 2016 Cina rated it it was ok
I gave this book 2 stars because I am still waiting for a conclusion to this book. I kept reading hoping that the more I read the better it would get but that didn't happen. Some of the stories of the characters fell to the side or didn't develop fully, there was very little development and disheartening that the main character Lizzie/Eliza never really realized her worth as a woman in the story. To the bitter end, even knowing what being a slave vs a free black woman meant and who were her oppr ...more
Melodie
This was an ambitious debut work.The title alone was a punch to the gut. Slavery is a tough topic,one that is multi-layered and fraught with landmines with potential to offend.Wile I found her to be a little wordy,I found the author up to the task on the subject.
Four slave mistresses accompany their masters,leaving wives and children, to a resort in the free state of Ohio. There the men and their slave mistresses occupy little cottages around the property. This strange arrangement is an open
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Kathrina
The historical authority necessary to write this novel was too much for this first-time author. There are various historical anachronisms that just rub wrong ("driveway", "chicken wire", growing soybeans in pre-Civil War Tennessee), but most importantly, the characters are flat, and our narrator's emotional terrain remains as elusive as it did in the first chapter. Perkins-Valdez admits to not knowing where her narrator was going as she began the novel, and I argue that she never did discover wh ...more
Monica **can't read fast enough**
Reading WENCH required me to constantly push aside my modern sensibilities. Knowing what slave women had to endure and in many instances convince themselves of in order to simply survive and maintain some sense of sanity is hard to accept. Lizzie is the perfect example of the divided and sometimes misguided loyalties that many slave women had to face. Taken from the only home that she had known and placed on a new plantation at a very young age, Lizzie doesn't have any semblance of a childhood. ...more
Erin
May 28, 2016 Erin rated it really liked it
As I am a Goodreads member, I have noticed that "Wench" seems to be a book that is buzzing especially among some of my favorite authors. I am glad that I took time to read it because once I started, it was impossible to put down!

Wench is the story of four slave women- Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu who vacation in the state of Ohio with their white masters. Say what? Nope, I am not crazy, There actually was a resort in the 1850's where white slave owners could bring their female slaves and they
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G
Mar 29, 2010 G rated it it was amazing
I adore historical fiction, and feel so lucky to have been offered the chance to review Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valez. Not only am I thrilled to have found another brilliant historical fiction novel by a first-time writer, but I haven’t read a book on slavery since high school, and I was so happy to learn so many new things while reading Wench. Did you know about Tawawa House near Xenia, Ohio? It was open from 1852 – 1855 and it was a resort for Southern gentlemen and their “slave entourages.” No ...more
Rashida
Slavery in America. What an awful window into the human soul. Being a black woman, it's a subject that I both never wish to have to confront again, but also know that I MUST be educated about, even when the social institutions responsible for conveying history fail to give it the proper illumination. So, I go through these reading binges and purges, where I read many books on slavery and then just bear to read another word. I first heard of Wench when I was at the end of a binge, and I had no in ...more
Kimberly
Nov 15, 2010 Kimberly rated it really liked it
I loved this book! It offered a a refreshing take on a subject that slave owners and their "mistresses", although I use this word loosely because it implies that these women freely entered these relationships. I think with all the reviews of the book, it is not neccessary for me to recap what it is about. What I would like to say is that I loved how the author showed you four women in the same situation, and how each one of them viewed their situation differently. And how knowing one another cha ...more
Taryn Pierson
Sep 29, 2015 Taryn Pierson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We who have spent a February or two in America’s public schools know intellectually that slavery is terrible. We look back with dewy young eyes on the Civil War era and nod along as our teachers describe what the lives of slaves were like. We know the words of the story by heart, an oft-repeated refrain that grows comfortable in its familiarity. We are so comfortable with slavery as America’s legacy that we can no longer see it for what it was.

And what it was, was horror.

Wench made me feel that
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Morgan F
I read about slavery for the same reason I read about Holocaust fiction; most of the time, I am guaranteed a powerful, emotionally resonant read. The subject alone could have made this book powerful, however the writing and poor character development made this an unenjoyable read.

Something about the prose was awkward and stumbling. I never forgot for a second I was reading a book. Normally, a book would sweep me up, making me either forget about the prose or making me marvel in its beauty. This
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Daenel
Dec 07, 2010 Daenel rated it really liked it
It took me a little while to really get into this book, in fact, it took me about a month to read it but once I got into it, it was hard for me to put it down. This novel has so many different themes:

the inhumanity of slavery
maternity and the sacrifices women make for their children
race relations
the importance of education
friendships between women
But I think the overwhelming theme (and the one that is probably most relevant to today’s audience) is that women are worth more than their “lady parts
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Adam
Mar 20, 2011 Adam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Show, don't tell" is one of the key principles of good writing. Dolen Perkins-Valdez doesn't appear to have learned this.

Let me offer an example with a single sentence from Chapter 32:
"Even before the words that followed, the words that would deliver Mawu's message, Lizzie knew something was wrong."

That's padding, folks. Eighteen words doing the work of five. "Lizzie knew something was wrong" alone would have conveyed everything.

Some of the historical details are also suspect. Drayle, Lizzie's
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Irene
Apr 20, 2015 Irene rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Irene by: Author Exposure
Shelves: gave-away
Reviewed for Author Exposure: http://www.authorexposure.com/2011/04...

In 1852, as the blistering summer heat descends upon the South, numerous plantation owners abandon their dejected wives and depart with their preferred slave “mistresses” to vacation in the cooler climates across the river in Ohio. Among them is Nathan Drayle of Tennessee, who arrives with his slave horseman, Philip, and his slave “mistress”, Lizzie, the mother of his son and daughter. Despite Nathan’s calculated prepubescent
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Kaki42
Mar 09, 2010 Kaki42 rated it really liked it
I first heard of this book during a discussion of THE HELP The Help on one of the public radio stations.
This story takes place before the Civil War, 1852-55, or thereabouts.
Southern slaveholding gentlemen would visit a resort in Ohio with their "wenches", or slaves. Many of these women had children back at the plantation fathered by these men. Their relationships were nothing if not complicated (at least from the women's standpoint).... all ranges of emotion are covered here. Love, hate, and in
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Adrianne
Jun 10, 2011 Adrianne rated it it was amazing
wench \'wench\ n. from Middle English "wenchel," 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

Imagine being owned by the man you love, the father of your children. Not in a metaphorical sense, but lock, stock and barrel. If he so desires, he can sell you or your children to the highest bidder or trade you all for farm equipment, furniture or livestock. He can commit physical atrocities with impunity or end your lives without legal retribution. Knowing all of this, if you had the chance to esca
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Diane
Mar 17, 2010 Diane rated it really liked it
Set in the unsettling times of the 1850's, Wench, follows the lives of four slave women: Lizzie, Mawu, Sweet and Reenie. Each summer for a few weeks, the Southern white masters of these young women take them away from the hardship of plantation life to Tawawa resort, a summer retreat located in the free state of Ohio. It is here that the slave women get to dress up in the cast off dresses of the white women from the previous year, when they attend a dinner dance with their master. The slave wome ...more
Katie Hutchison Irion
I don't know, the more I think about this the more I dislike it. If I didn't have a bleeding heart I think I'd only give it two stars. It is not like it is poorly written or without a good story, I just don't like the subject matter.
The story centers around some resort in Ohio in the 1850s. This resort caters to wealthy Northern and Southern families and while Ohio is a free state, it allows Southern families to bring their slaves. The crux of the story is about four slave women who come to the
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Nakia
Feb 13, 2016 Nakia rated it liked it
Besides the fact that I wore myself out in my teens and early twenties on reading fictional accounts about slavery, I really enjoyed this book, mainly because Perkins-Valdes told the story of bondage from a very rarely touched on point of view: that of the kept slave mistress. And by "kept", I do not mean one who lived the good life, since by all accounts, the four women presented in "Wench" may have fared slightly better than the field slaves, but still had their own heavy burdens to carry, nam ...more
Monique
Feb 16, 2013 Monique rated it really liked it
Okay so I must admit with the replaying of Roots: An American Family Saga over the holidays and I dont know my recent fascination with the Civil war and slavery I put this book on hold at a neighboring library and picked it up willingly..I found the premise hands down just so interesting with one of the most intriguing leads ever promoting the story of a resort hotel in the free state of Ohio where Southern slaveowners would leave their strenous (bah) life of running a plantation and using and a ...more
Jim
Mar 02, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of historial fiction
Shelves: bread-loaf
My friend Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s debut is as ambitious as they come. Set in the middle of the 19th century, Wench brings together four female slaves who share one another’s company each summer when their white masters bring them to an upscale resort in Ohio. At Tarawa House, Lizzie, Rennie, Sweet and Mawu enjoy freedoms they wouldn’t ordinarily experience back at the plantation, yet despite their “privileged” status as favored mistresses they never escape the degradation of being a slave. The ex ...more
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Dolen Perkins-Valdezs fiction and essays have appeared or will appear in The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, African American Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, Richard Wright Newsletter, and SLI: Studies in Literary Imagination. She is a 2009 finalist for the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Award. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California Presidents Postdoct ...more
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“My children ain’t the only thing I love. If I was allowed, I reckon I’d love myself, too.” 13 likes
“At night, before she went to sleep in her cabin down in the quarters, she remembered Mawu’s story and told herself that she was a god, a powerful god. Each and every day, she reminded herself of this so that she wouldn’t fall backward. She was more than eyes, ears, lips, and thigh. She was a heart. She was a mind” 7 likes
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