October 10th, 2013
The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden
I received an *ARC in exchange for an honest review. If I'm being frank, Im very sensitive to the subject of slavery. It makes me uncomfortable to read about it, see it portrayed in media, or have to think about the times where had I been born in a different time, how differently would my life had been?
I was....hesitant to read this. I like to learn about slavery, but the more I learn, the more sensitive I become towards it. Now with that being said, had I read any other book and hated it, I would never pick up a historical fiction book depicting slavery again. Not to say I will run to amazon.com and look up as many as I can find, but Im glad that I choose this book with the theme in mind to be my first.
The Wedding Gift centers around Sarah Campbell, an extremely fair skinned slave whom is the product of illicit relations between her master and her Black mother, and Theodora Allen, the wife of the slave master. Off the bat, I thought I'd hate both characters. In fact, their introductions, I saw nothing special about either of them. But as the story progressed, so did their character development.
The plot did not normally grab me. I was afraid I would have to sit through the "tragic mulatto" tale, or worse, the "poor mistress of the plantation" story. The story began to really unfold after about 5 chapters. I thought the pacing was better after this amount of time had passed. The consistency was confusing, as Theodora and Sarah told from different points of the story for themselves, and it took awhile for both their present's to line up. There was a lot of world building from the POV of a slave and the wife of a slave owner. I have to admit it makes me fear Alabama even more. And the predictability aspect had me thinking I was watching an episode of Maury XD Sarah proved she was a bit of an unreliable narrator towards the end.
Character development? Hmm...I started out assuming I would hate both main characters. Both women eluded a type of strength, that while in the modern world may not seem like much, but it was truly above and beyond for the times. A close friend(Libby's BF) is biracial, so Im often an audience for his struggles of growing up biracial. Perhaps that was my fear of Sarah being biracial. I thought I'd be given a sob story. Sarah was strong, and her ambition never died to become a free woman. The lengths she took to be free(which included passing for a man,due to her 5'10" frame)were inspiring.
Theodora? I may step on toes, but I feared I would have nothing in common with her because she was a slave owner's privileged wife, but the more I learned about her, she wasn't as privileged as I thought. She was a constant victim of misogyny, which was common for this time. She was a fighter on her own battlefield, which was her own home. I tried very hard not to like her, but her love for writing, and education, and her ability to speak her mind were not lost in the times. Both ladies were amazing.
The backstory sometimes came too early or too late due to the narrators speaking from different time points. Sarah was about 17-18 by the present events, so at times Theodora, her being seasoned and all, told points from before Sarah was born. There was no consistent amount of chapters each took in exchanging the narration, so sometimes it took me a while to process certain info. Definitely a A LOT of conflict. I mean, reality show anyone? This family was insane. They let a lot of shit go on,and to be honest it made for good drama. Always had me turning the page. Unique? I haven't read any other books in this genre, so I don't think Im a good judge.
There was nothing particularly wrong with the writing style, it was just difficult at times for me to understand those with different dialects. The POV is told through two voices, and their both first person and quite clear. I was actually surprised with Sarah acknowledged the reader in the last chapter. Made me feel like they wrote a diary just for me to read. I have no issue with editing as it was pretty good for an ARC, and there was balance between dialogue and action.
Due to the setting there was a lot of diversity. Sarah was half white and black, and her sister(who's father was from Senegal) and mother were black. Sarah was the maid to her other biological sister Clarissa, and Theodora was a white woman. For the time, I suppose it's appropriate to see mainly blacks and whites. I found it unbelievable at first that a white woman would teach the illegitimate slave daughter of her husband to read, but she was kind despite her ignorance as well. I don't think one can write historical fiction without research,so thumbs up. There were a lot of characters, and some of them confused me because they weren't introduced, so at times it seemed forced. I liked that Sarah acknowledged her mother and sister were both beautiful. Even Theodora did. Sarah had a lot of European features, so I was glad she acknowledged her sister and mother were very beautiful as they were much darker. I felt as though the circumstances were against Theodora and Sarah and they never let the things that should have stood in their way, do.
I didn't find that the cover or titles were suiting however. Sarah was only her sister's "Wedding Gift" for such a small amount of time. And the cover doesn't portray the story very well. Character names? I suppose they're appropriate, but they don't exactly stand out. Descriptions of the characters were pretty good, although I didn't realize Sarah was so tall until she began posing as a man.
Overall I think I actually loved it. My first historical fiction read depicting slavery. Will I go out and pick up more books like this? Maybe. I wont rush, but I wont be as prejudice as I have been. This was a truly great gem for me. I hope other books I choose to read in the future are as entertaining as this was!
Despite this being a book about a very vulnerable time for Black women, I actually had fun dreamcasting it. There wasn't a point in my reading where I didn't picture Tawny Cypress as my Sarah.
Her half sister Clarissa, and Clarissa's mom Theodora were a bit more difficult. But by the end I pictured ScarJo as Riss, and Kristen Scott Thomas as Theo.