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Wench!

Alright party people, what did you think?  I won’t do a synopsis of the book, because we all read it.  Right?  Right.

A few of my thoughts:

Prior to reading the book, I read a synopsis of it which described the women as “mistresses.”  I take issue with that as I’ve always believed a mistress had say into whether or not they entered/stayed in a relationship.  These were slaves who were at the beck and call of their masters.  Mistress almost has a romantic feel to it.

I enjoyed the book.  Well, as much as one can enjoy a book about slave women who were used sexually by their owners.  I thought it was really well written and once I started reading it, I rarely put it down.  Though I know this was a work of fiction, it was hard for me to read it as such and I found myself getting caught up in the “lives” of Lizzie, Mawu, Reenie and Sweet.  You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to read an e-reader at one’s desk.  Or so I’ve heard…

The word “love” was bandied about pretty frequently.  I’m not so sure that I would describe these relationships as “love” though I won’t deny that some measure of affection was present on both sides.  And then I recall what happened when Mawu tried to run and both love and affection were taken off the table.

And when Sweet’s children died and all she could do was bury clothes that represented her babies?  Oh my.  My heart was in my throat.

Okay, I’m going to stop here.  I could go on and on, but I’ll rein myself in.  What did you think of the book?  Did you like it?  Hate it?  Indifferent?  Did you care for the ending?  (I did not!)  Do you think the women and their masters had a degree of love for one another?  Why do you think Lizzie turned Mawu in?  Why didn’t Lizzie run?  Do you wonder (I do) if you would have run or stayed had you been born a slave?  Do you find books with unpleasant subject matter hard to read?  I know a number of people had issue with the subject matter and for that reason couldn’t read the book.  Oh wait, I said I’d stop.  So I will.

Discuss in the comments…

Wait! Before you go, two things.  1.  Does anybody want to “host” the next book club?  2.  If no one wants to host, I’m glad to.  Any suggestions for what we read next?

Okay, now, discuss in the comments…

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40 thoughts on “Wench!

    • Oooh…I don’t know y’all. I’d heard good things about the book, but didn’t know what it was about. I just Googled it – I’m honestly not sure I want to read anything that heavy. I’d probably spend the whole month crying.

  1. Although I read the book rather quickly and pretty much w/o putting it down – I can not say I “liked” it as the subject matter brought about feelings of anger/disgust re:slavery. – I too, did not care for the ending – I think Lizzie did not run b/c she was holding out that her kids would fare better if she stayed. – And in some twisted way, I do think the slave masters felt some manner of “love” for the slave women they were in long term relationships with….all in all – interesting read, but, definitely not one of those books I’d go to again and again!

    • I agree – I think Lizzie stayed for her children’s sake – though I don’t know if I believe that her master (can’t remember his name) would’ve eventually done right by his children. I think having the boy(s) educated was as far as he was going to go.

    • The ending was too abrupt and seemed not to have the same depth and emotion that had been presented in the rest of the book.

      I was satisfied know that Wilberforce was created from this period in our history. That part of the story says that education is key to freedom from all forms of slavery–physical, mental, economic, mental, etc.

      • I liked the ending. I didn’t mind yearning for more. In the interview in the paperback, the author said she wasn’t going to write a sequel. MAN! I really want to know an update on all of the women’s lives and how they dealt with emancipation.

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  3. Shortly before this, I read The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. It was set on a plantation in Jamaica and slavery in the West Indies was more harsh and sadistic. This might have led to me feeling like this book was “light” but the reality is that being owned, in the same way that a cow is owned is never pretty or easy.

    I couldn’t get with Lizzie for most of the book. I was annoyed by her ratting out Mawu’s plans, especially because she seemed to think she’d done it for her own good. I became more sympathetic to her as her past was shown. He started in on her when she was still a child, she didn’t have a chance. I’m sure he was also fond of her, in the same way someone might have a favorite dog. She did try, as in when she got her master to sell that guy to the barber so he could marry his daughter. The ending was disappointing but real.

    I was struck by how Mawu was driven to such extreme hatred that even caused her to reject her children, due to her circumstances. Human slavery forces both slaveowner and slave changes both, for the worse. n

    Sweet losing her children, without even being there to comfort them broke my heart. I sobbed each time she’d show up with a set of clothes.

    Reenie was so broken. The part where she almost drowns herself touched me. Her owner lending the use of her to another man, like you’d lend someone a horse really drove the point home for me that it doesn’t take getting tied up and whipped to break someone’s spirit.

    • Lizzie kind of irritated me as well. She seemed pretty naive for a slave, no matter how much protection her status afforded her.

      I thought they should’ve just let Reenie go and find her peace outside of this life.

      I didn’t mention the relationship between Lizzie and the master’s wife. What did you think about that? About the way the wife took Lizzie’s children as her own? I found that odd – like crazy lady odd. I suppose it was just a way for her to get some attention from her husband?

      • I’d forgotten about that. Yeah, definitely crazy lady odd. I cringed reading that part because I knew it couldn’t last. I was just glad that it was mostly emotional pain when they fell out of favor. I was really worried that it would be worse. Her son was kind of a little snot, though.

        I don’t know if it was a way to get attention from her husband or what… I can’t imagine living with the out of wedlock offspring of my husband under the same roof. If she loved him, it must have been hard. Maybe she just cracked.

      • I know when reading historical fiction, you have to use your “historical imagination” and view it through the lens of the realities and morals of the time. BUT, I cannot for the life of me imagine any woman allowing her husband’s slave concubine to occupy a bedroom across from their own. I know women – black and white – had few rights, but that was just beyond my comprehension.

      • Big Love-ish sister wives stuff. Imagine being married to a man who is stinky and flaunts his other woman right in your face. Maybe he never physically tied her to a pole, but she was just as much a prisoner.

        Wife treated the kids like puppies or calves or something.

    • I think that Sweet’s story was the most tragic–if there are levels to tragedy in slavery. Knowing that she had children and that they were suffering and dying and yet she could not be with them to offer maternal comfort, was heart-wrenching for me.

      Mawu was a fighter! I like to think I would have been a Mawu in these circumstances.

  4. This is the first time I have ever participated in a blogging book club. I hope this adds to your reading enjoyment of our selected book, Wench.
    I am always reluctant to read another book about the plight of the slave and especially the abuse, mistreatment and neglect of the slave woman. I also give pause to the concept of that a historical novel about African Americans starts with a cruel overseer or the unspoken ease of be a house slave. I think there is more to the story than that microscopic view.
    However, I was intrigued with Wench because it gave a different perspective on relationships, or lack thereof, between master and “privileged” slave women and their children. I had not read a book that explored the “privileges” that came to master’s preferred women. From this preference came slave children who were part of two worlds: slave life in slave cabins with perceptions of plantation freedom and the realization that the enslaving master had fathered them.
    In this book Lizzie seemed to want more for her children than the master could give. After all, these children were property not family. Lizzie wanted her relationship with the master to translate into the promise of freedom for their children. The master could not comprehend nor did he want to commit to the subject of freedom without something in exchange for that privilege.
    The friendship that developed between the four slave women of this book was supportive and protective for their times together. All of them were helpless or hopeless when it came to chasing freedom or pursuing love. Love and freedom from the masters were the same intertwined thing for the women and two different things for the masters.

      • I think his connection to the family aspect of children came from the pressures of Lizzie and his wife. His major concern was losing property = money. Altho the children did not work the fields they were prepared for the more genteel services of the house. He did not want to lose their potential for working work.

        Lizzie was persistent in her requesting the children’s freedom. She realized that he might, maybe, perhaps, in a dream free their children. And she would not let him forget that they deserved his “love” and consideration in regards to freedom.

      • I felt like the master loved his children the only way he knew how as a slaveowner with black children. Obviously if I was the mother of those children it wouldn’t be enough but I think there was love there.

  5. I read the book a while back. I did NOT like how the book ended. I did not consider the women to be mistresses. Like Nerdgirl said, mistress sounds romantic and in todays standards, mistresses have a choice. These women were slaves, sexual slaves.

    IMO, Mawu rejected her children as a form of protection or to show love. I believe that her thinking was “if i dont allow them to love me , then it wont hurt them when i leave” and “my leaving will not be used against them because everyone knows that I never developed love for them”.

    Also, I think that Lizzie was just plain young and dumb. She romanticized her relationship with the slave master. She had been shown preferential treatment when she was in the slave quarters and the master had given in to some of her pleas (allowing her to visit her sister, allowing the guy to buy the barber, etc) which led her to believe that she had a little power in her ability to charm the master.

    However, at the end of the story she came to the realization that she was truly powerless. She accepted her plight for what it was and started dreaming of a better life for her children. In that respect, it reminded me of all parents who want better for their children than what they have experienced.

    • I just found the ending very abrupt. It wasn’t an issue of Lizzie choosing not to run away, I just kept thinking “that’s it?” I thought perhaps the book hadn’t downloaded in its entirety…

      I cannot imagine being in a situation that would cause me to choose rejection of my child as a mechanism of love. I simply cannot imagine, but I know that there were likely plenty of mothers – and fathers – who made that choice.

      • Yeah, the ending was abrupt. I think the writer may have left it so that a second book could follow.

      • “I just found the ending very abrupt. It wasn’t an issue of Lizzie choosing not to run away, I just kept thinking “that’s it?””

        Me too!!

  6. I thought the Master’s wife sudden interest in his and Lizzie’s kids straight up weird and crazy too — I kept waiting with baited breath for her to do something sick and sadistic to them as a way to hurt Master and Lizzie

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  8. I think the wife’s time with Lizzie’s children was a coping mechanism for her. She could not have children and she desperately wanted that part of the Master. The children were a fascination for her. They occupied her time and mind just as a pet poodle would have. That is why they could fall out of favor as easily and quickly as they became her little show pieces.

  9. I read the book fairly quickly and then, like many of you, found the ending a little abrupt. I though it was interesting how Mawu was able to forgive Lizzie despite being publicly brutalized after the betrayal. I almost wish Mawu could have been the focus of the book, I wanted to know more about her including how she managed to survive after the fire? What was going through her mind as she planned her next escape? Was THAT act of physical brutality the turning point after years of brutality? Despite the “myth” of the two sisters; I can’t imagine that is was compelling enough reason to risk staying in Ohio and risk being captured. OK, I’m rambling, but it’s a round about way to say : I had little sympathy for Lizzie and was cheering for Mawu and even empathized with her. Her children weren’t born of love or care, but rape and “commerce”, so I can almost see how she was able to focus on her own survival. With that mindset …I was troubled (OK, annoyed) that she stayed to wait for someone who clearly did not want to be “saved”.

    • I couldn’t believe that Mawu forgave Lizzie. Could not believe it!

      I see where you’re coming from – I do think Mawu was a more interesting character – she had a fierceness about her that was appealing to me.

      • Yes! I would’ve loved Mawu as the main character! I could somehow believe Mawu forgave her but I wasn’t thrilled with the explanation of why. I mean really?

  10. I liked the book, but hated the ending. It seemed like the twin/moon thing came out of nowhere. I mean, I could understand the symbolism, but I didn’t think it added anything. I think Lizzie confused her feelings–she only “loved” him because he fathered her children. The masters didn’t love anyone, although they may have been affectionate. Reenie’s master certainly didn’t show love when he turned her over to the inn owner. I think Lizzie thought she was saving Mawu by turning her in. She didn’t want to see her caught. Lizzie didn’t run because she was conflicted, but I also saw her as a coward. I was angry with her because she stayed on, knowing that Mawu was risking her freedom by waiting for her. Yes, she was concerned for her children, but ol’ boy was playing her by telling her that he would send his son to school.

    I think if I were a slave and subjected to that kind of treatment, I’d have pulled a Mawu and tried to kill my master, or I would have run. I didn’t find the subject matter unpleasant–I love historical fiction.

    • That whole dinner scene where Reenie was turned over just disturbed me. It seemed so…I don’t know, words fail me. But having the women dress up and be served and then to turn Reenie over? Those masters were some kind of sick and twisted. Not that I didn’t already think that. My face was seriously twisted up when I was reading it. If I can get my thoughts together I’ll be back.

      • No, not really. There have been times in my life where if you’d asked me if I would’ve run or stayed I definitely would’ve answered stayed. Hopeless is too strong a word, but there are times when I just feel resigned and if I’d been a slave, I may very well have just resigned myself to living and dying a slave.

  11. I read the book some time back but I couldn’t force myself to reread it. I mainly enjoy escapist goofy books so this was a little dark for me.

    All of the women in the book had ugly brutal lives – the wives and the slave women were all prisoners. At that time, a woman’s worth was defined by her ability to have children. Now imagine that you’re infertile but your husband has children with his slave AND he takes her on “vacation” Huh? What? Just crazy.

    Would I have run away? Probably not but I would have tried to leverage what little power I had to make a better life for my children. Would I have known what a better life was? Don’t know. I’m naturally a mean kinda chick, so I prolly would have been trying to put roots on ole massa and that would have probably been an all around bad move.

    • I’m not sure I’m supposed to be laughing at comments on a book about female slaves! Work that “root!”

      It is very hard to empathize with situations that most of us would never find ourselves in today. Somebody (not on here) was like “the wife should’ve just left.” Um, it was the 1800s – where was she going?

      I didn’t exactly get an ereader. I read on my iPod Touch. Well, that’s not totally true – my Dad bought me a Sony ereader for Christmas. But I haven’t used it – I find the Touch easier to deal with. (Don’t tell him!)

  12. Okay, so overall I really enjoyed the book but as you and others stated the ending left me….well hanging. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that it could have been left open for the possibility of a second book. Good point.

    Lizzie…….*sigh* Her continuous state of denial irritated me to no end. I found myself talking back to the book asking, “Don’t you get it?”, even though I knew she did. She was, quite frankly, a rat bastid for outing Mawu to try and gain favor with slave master (or whoever she did it for…can’t remember).

    Speaking of Mawu, how captivating was she? What she lacked in book sense she more than made up for with common sense. I really hate that her senses failed her at the most opportune time because there’s no way in Hades I would have stayed around to wait for Lizzie.

    Sweet…..I really don’t remember much about her other than her being pregnant, her boobs being relatively bountiful during her pregnancy and her and her children’s deaths. The end of her story was rather depressing……kind of how I imagine it is watching ‘For Colored Girls’.

    Reenie championed them all. She beat death, pimpin’ and got away scott free.

  13. Ok I finally finished the book. It was interesting to say the least. Would I have picked it on my own- probably not.

    Lizzie- Irritated me with how trusting she was. Everyone else could see that her kids were not gonna be free , and that Drayle really didnt care about her. And then to rat your friends out in order “to protect them , and save them from danger. ” Girl please.

    Mawu- loved her, but I wouldnt have waited around. I would have kept going with Reenie. At some point you have to put yourself first , and you cant worry about what others are doing.

    Reenie – YES girl , choose your freedom over anything else

    Sweet- When she was creating clothes for her dead kids I wanted to cry

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