Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson
Guess what, fam! I didn’t actually buy this book! I got Yellow Wife from one of our book club’s book exchanges. We all bring in a wrapped booth with some details about the book (like a blind date with a book), and then it’s White Elephant/Yankee Swap rules. I actually think this one came to be mine after I somehow ended up with the book I brought at the end of the night. There was an extra, so I passed mine on and got to come home with this gem.
In the tradition of Wench and Twelve Years a Slave, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.
Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Brown was promised her freedom on her eighteenth birthday. But when her birthday finally comes around, instead of the idyllic life she was hoping for with her true love, she finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half-Acre, a jail where slaves are broken, tortured, and sold every day. Forced to become the mistress of the brutal man who owns the jail, Pheby faces the ultimate sacrifice to protect her heart in this powerful, thrilling story of one slave’s fight for freedom.
Historical fiction feels indulgent to me. It’s one of those genres that I really enjoy, but I have to be in the right mood for it. Not only do I have to be in the right mood, but I also know that it’s probably going to wreck me emotionally somehow.
Yellow Wife was an unexpected book for me. Generally, when I read historical fiction, it’s either HELLA old (like…mythology old) or more like World War I/II old. I read Yellow Wife to fulfill the “Industrial Revolution” time period for book club, so 1750s-1900s or so.
I’ve read a few books that take place over the time of the slave trade before, but never one like this. If I recall correctly, most of what I’ve read have been stories either from a male perspective or from the perspective of someone escaping slavery. I think this is the first one I’ve read from the perspective of a stuck woman.
Not only is Pheby sold and enslaved, but she is with an abusive man! If you know the “grimacing face” emoji . . . that is what I felt like for the majority of Yellow Wife. (I will also fight anyone who says that emoji is meant to convey any sort of positive emotion. Look up the definition of “grimace” if you don’t believe me.)
Honestly, this book made me uncomfortable, and I’m glad that it did. It’s a time period that I tend to avoid because it was so awful, but that’s not okay. We do need to recognize the atrocities in our history so that we can do better in the future.
Yellow Wife was beautiful and heartbreaking, and I would absolutely recommend reading it if you can get your hands on it. I even loaned it out to a friend at book club who was excited to read it after I talked about it!
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