Synopses & 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 particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.
Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don't bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory-but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.
To run is to leave behind everything these women value most-friends and families still down South-and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances-all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era.
An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.
“A mesmerizing read.” Seattle Times
“A heartbreaker, full of understated tragedy and lyrical prose. . . . Perkins-Valdez has woven a devastatingly beautiful account of a cruel past.” People
“A powerful story.” Sequim Gazette
“Through unforgettable characters and luscious prose, Wench stares down the difficult truths while never losing its beautiful beating heart. With all the weight of a historical excavation and the urgency of a page-turner, Perkins-Valdez establishes herself as a powerful new voice in fiction. ” Tayari Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling
“[E]lectrifying. . . . [T]his remarkable novel skillfully dramatizes a dark chapter in American history. Writing with lyrical grace and a gift for plot development, Perkins-Valdez has produced an inspiring portrait of four brave women and the risks they take to change their lives.” BookPage
“A shattering story told with dignity, compassion, and some wicked humor. A brave, honest, beautifully written book that will shock and move readers to much new awareness.” Sigrid Nunez, author of < i=""> The Last of Her Kind <> and < i=""> A Feather on the Breath of God <>
“[A] fascinating and tragic story. . . . [A] compulsive read.” NPR.org, Book Club Pick
“[A] memorable and engaging debut.” < i=""> Library Journal <> , Best Books of 2010
“Impressive. . . . There are countless stories to be told and to be read regarding the lingering emotional impact of slavery; and here, Perkins-Valdez has imagined a memorable one, her characters are framed within a well-crafted and expressive narrative.” The Network Journal
“A fabulously creative and daring historical novel .” Dawn Turner Trice, < i=""> Chicago Tribune <>
“Absolutely phenomenal. . . . Wench is an excellent novel that will appeal to many readers. Debut author Dolen Perkins-Valdez has crafted a historical narrative that shouldnt be missed.” Sacramento Book Review
“Readers entranced by The Help will be equally riveted by Wench. A deeply moving, beautifully written novel told from the heart.” USA Today
“This elegantly-structured novel sheds much-needed light on the racial intricacies of Americas past.” Margaret Cezair-Thompson, author of The Pirate's D aughter (a #1 Indie Next Pick)
“A finely wrought story that explores the emotional lives of four slave women caught in the web of the Peculiar Institution.” Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River and Red River
“Perkins-Valdez crawls under your skin and probes most gracefully in clear, concise lyric prose, ultimately asking the question that only extraordinary fiction can ask--what would you have done? A superb and outstanding achievement.” Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall and A Peculiar Grace
“Dolen Perkins-Valdezs debut novel, Wench, is outstanding: well crafted, imaginative, spellbinding, and above all satisfying.” World Literature Today
“In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history. . . . Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdezs ability to bring the unfortunate past to life.” Publishers Weekly
“[A] memorable first novel . . . Readers of historical fiction centering on Southern womens stories like Lalita Tademys Cane River or Lee Smiths On Agate Hill will be moved by the skillful portrayal of Lizzies precarious situation and the tragic stories of her fellow slaves.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Drawing on research about the resort that eventually became the first black college, Wilberforce University, the novel explores the complexities of relationships in slavery and the abiding comfort of womens friendships.” Booklist
“A striking debut intimately limns a Southern slaves complicated relationship with her master. . . . Compelling and unsentimental.” Kirkus Reviews
“Perkins-Valdez manages to shed a poetic light on one of the ugliest chapters in American history.” Essence
“Perkins-Valdez memorably portrays how the entwined destinies of chattel and master, increasingly related by blood, passion and hatred, prefigure the looming national conflict. This is an almost forgotten, but important, chapter in American history--recorded as fiction but nonetheless full of hard facts.” Town & Country
"What sets Blue Asylum
apart is Hepinstalls luscious prose and the tension within each character that keeps the reader maddeningly off balance...Hepinstall makes inspired use of the Civil War as a means to explore notions of freedom, courage and, especially, opposing principals that both prevent and create change. Battle scenes, glimpsed briefly in Ambroses excruciating flashbacks, deliver knockout punches of quiet horror all the more affecting for their subtlety."
"A fine novel embroidered with rich imagery."
"Features excellent pacing and strong character development that animate not only the inmates at the Sanibel Asylum but the characters from the preasylum lives of Iris and Ambrose. A first-rate choice for fans of intelligent historical romances."
—Library Journal, starred review
"Hepinstall exquisitely illustrates the fate of societal outsiders in this richly compelling Civil War-era tale of the former mistress of a Virginia plantation, now confined to a beautiful island asylum, and her burgeoning love for a traumatized Confederate soldier... Deftly interweaving past and present, Hepinstall sets the struggles of her characters against the rigidity of a traditional Southern society and the brutality of war in an absorbing story that explores both the rewards and perils of love, pride, and sanity itself."
"A deep sense of the natural world, often-lyrical prose, and some touches of southern Gothic help carry along this tale of obsession and redemption."
"With Blue Asylum, Kathy Hepinstall presents the reader with the rare and delicious quandary of whether to race through and find out what happens to her characters or to linger over her vivid, beautifully crafted sentences. For me, the only resolution was to read it twice."
—Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke
"Blue Asylum is a gripping story of love and madness in the midst of the Civil War—I couldnt put it down!"
—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
"Blue Asylum casts a spell that keeps the reader turning pages as if in a trance. The language is lyrical but the plot is taut and compelling. The horrors of the Civil War are made real and specific in the story of the wounded soldier and the persecuted wife who find love and hope in the unlikely setting of a supposedly enlightened insane asylum on an isolated island in the Deep South. Kathy Hepinstall is a master storyteller in full command of her craft."
—Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, author of A Woman of Independent Means
"I lost myself whole-heartedly in [Eugénie's] story, and would have followed her down any narrow alley, into any candlelit room, just to know what happened, to stay back there and to delay coming home." —Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
"A sweeping, fascinating epic full of drama and beauty."—Publishers Weekly
"The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. is as much a personal meditation on womens emotional and professional tradeoffs as it is a sweeping saga of the decadent Paris that spawned Madame Bovary. … Dont read this fiercely intelligent novel if you simply want a good love story dressed up in period clothes. Read it for the complex sexual politics, lush language, and mirror onto our own excessive, heedless times."—Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger
"The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. is an arresting tale of what it meant to survive as a woman in 19th-century France. With spare, powerful prose Carole DeSanti's debut novel paints an unflinching portrait of love and loss against a landscape of Parisian decadence." — Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches
"Epic times make for epic books. The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. is both sweeping in scope and painstaking in detail. Eugénie R.'s story, from naive goosegirl to resilient survivor, makes for wonderful, suspenseful reading, but tumultuous Paris is equally compelling, laid out here by DeSanti in all her grisly or gorgeous glory." — Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"Against a carefully recreated landscape of France and the City of Lights during the 1860s, with the Prussian army heading for Paris, DeSanti brings a 21st-century sensitivity for the plight and passions of women in her rendering of Eugénie and the women and men she comes to travel (and drink) among." —Mireille Guiliano, internationally best-selling author of French Women Dont Get Fat
"Reading The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. is like entering a lush dream filled with beauty and brutality. This astonishing debut is a panoramic story of war and peace, love and betrayal, innocence and hard-won wisdom, told through the eyes of a compelling woman who kept me at her side through it all." —Lauren Belfer, author of A Fierce Radiance
"So richly and sensuously drawn one can almost feel it . . . Perhaps if [Eugénie's] contemporary, Emma Bovary, had possessed the ingenuity, wit, and tenacity of Eugénie R., Madame B. wouldnt have had to take that arsenic." — Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day
"Lord! This is a great piece of work. How beautifully this is written. How rare that is to discover on the page." — Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out Of Carolina
"A magnificent novel in scope and achievement, powerfully written yet delicately evocative." — Fay Weldon
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Joness The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez—previously a finalist for the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize—as a writer destined for greatness.
In the midst of the American Civil War, a southern plantation owner's wife is arrested by her husband and declared insane for interfering with his slaves. She is sent to an island mental asylum to come to terms with her wrongdoing, but instead finds love and escape with a war-haunted Confederate soldier.
Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property. On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris. The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom. http://www.hmhbooks.com/blueasylum/
Love, war, and commerce converge in this lush, epic story of a woman who follows her love to Paris, only to find herself marooned, pregnant, and penniless. Set around France's Second Empire, where absinthe, prostitution, vast wealth, and cataclysmic social upheaval abound, this novel delicately explores the contrary requirements of a woman's survival.
“As fiercely depicted as the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec.” — Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille
Love and war converge in this lush, epic story of a young womans coming of age during and after Frances Second Empire (1860-1871), an era that was absinthe-soaked, fueled by railway money and prostitution, and transformed by cataclysmic social upheaval.
Eugénie R., born in foie gras country, follows the man she loves to Paris but soon finds herself marooned. An outcast, she charts the treacherous waters of sexual commerce on a journey through artists ateliers and pawnshops, zinc bars and luxurious bordellos. Giving birth to a daughter she is forced to abandon, Eugénie spends the next ten years fighting to get her back, falling in love along the way with an artist, a woman, and a revolutionary. Then, as the gates of the city close on the eve of the Siege of Paris, Eugénie comes face to face with her past. Drawn into a net of desire and need, promises and lies, she must make a choice and find her way to a life that she can call her own.
"Eugénie R.s story drops us into the dark velvety centers of sex, sin, and political intrigue, and takes us along on her own instinctive journey to modern womanhood." — Lynn Hunt, Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History, UCLA
"This astonishing debut is a panoramic story of war and peace, love and betrayal, innocence and hard-won wisdom." — Lauren Belfer, author of A Fierce Radiance
About the Author
Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. Her fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, StorySouth, and elsewhere. In 2011 she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was also awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, Dolen Perkins-Valdez lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.