Yellow Wife – by Sadeqa Johnson – independent book review – Historical Fiction (United States)

An historical novel that tells one woman’s experience of slavery in the United States from 1850 to 1874. Be warned that author Sadeqa Johnson spares no details! Awarded four stars on Goodreads. Not as much for the writing as for the power of story. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

In 1850, Delores is the half-black child of an enslaved woman, Ruth, an herb healer living on a large plantation in Virginia. Delores’ early years are happily atypical because she is favored by both the plantation owner and his sister – both of whom treat her with unfailing kindness and affection. The sister takes Delores on special shopping trips, teaches her to play piano and, despite the law, even teaches Delores to read and write. The Master promises to send her North for schooling when she’s older and to free her on her 18th birthday.

But life changes abruptly after the sister dies and the Master marries. His new wife takes an instant dislike to Delores and uses every opportunity (especially during her husband’s frequent absences) to punish and humiliate the girl. As Delores gets older and becomes recognized for her great beauty, her only consolations are her mother’s steady love and her passion for an enslaved man named Essex. They plan to marry.

The next 20 years, however, become increasingly difficult. Sold away from her home and bought by a brutal jailer to be his primary mistress, Delores and those she loves are treated with so much violence that many parts of this book are difficult to read. Starvation, rape, forced prostitution, vicious beatings, and torture are commonplace. Like other enslaved people, the quality of Delores’s life depends on the whim of the Master.

Sadeqa Johnson (image from her Website)

The violence also reflects this particular time period. As the Civil War approaches, southern slave owners are increasingly determined to use any means to prevent slaves from running away and Yankees from interfering in slaveholder “property rights.”

A hard book to get through but a story worth remembering. Especially in light of the current political climate and facing significant demographics shifts in the coming decades.

More about the author, Sadeqa Johnson.

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