Strong women, impossible situations.
The women who took the journey from various parts of the antebellum south to the resorts of the north to be a "couple" with their slaveowners, endured beyond modern comprehension.
Love, technically and in the purest sense, knows no color, culture, ethnicity, religion, color, economics. In the purest sense, it is blind. Yet, can it be pure when one is owned by the other and the reason for the "holiday" was the sexual exploitation of the other?
My questions probably resonated with some of the women in the book like the oldest one who was given away to the resort owner for his depraved sexual exploits to the youngest who was confused by the promises of her "first and only" who fathered children with her and dangled freedom in front of them like a carrot, she being almost white herself, her children technically 1/8th white, the owner not wanting to lose his "property" and "investment."
Throughout the reading of The Wench, I had many questions and also felt the pain and confusion of not truly owning one's womanhood when the prospect of being taken at any moment and in any way loomed high in air like the stifling Ohio heat that was Xenia. I wondered why the women didn't escape and realized the men held the children out as a bargaining chip, something to hold psychological control.
One, then two, realized that the empty promises and freedom to walk hand-in-hand and live in a little cottage "like a wife" was not worth the chattal ownership and lose of self. One succumbed to that lost after she experienced the ultimate loss of all that flowed through her body.
This book is filled with powerful writing and imagery and a tense undercurrent that was part of the south and north just before the civil war. There was the quiet and efficient work of the Underground Railroad and the freedom one felt when finally making it to New York and a "room of my own" working for rich white people in the north.
Slavery is at the very heart and fiber of this country. This book demonstrated that emotions, family ties, cultural ties are all tangled up when questions of economy, property, rights, and legality are used to control one's soul.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez made the nuances of slavery and the white man-black/mulatto/quadroon/octaroon woman much more vivid than a lot of writings that simply state the fact. This delved beneath the fact and into the place where there is more untold. There were close intimacies and a deep understanding of one versus the other more so than simply working in the field. It presented dangers to women that are often undiscussed when reviewing slavery in the United States.
I highly recommend this book, ironically, it is almost summer time, perfect for reading just vivid, poetic, and imaginative prose. Let Xenia come alive and then celebrate the rebirth and new life of the resort that now fulfills those silent promises that were sounded out in covert words on paper.
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