Yellow Wife: A Novel
by Sadeqa Johnson
Hardcover- $22.99

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  "Illuminating book about slavery" by thewanderingjew (see profile) 01/21/21

Yellow Wife, Sedeqa Johnson, author; Robin Miles, narrator
Based on the lives of real life characters, during the ignominious era of slavery, this book will touch the heart of every reader. There is simply no way to read about the auction block and arrogance of the slave owner, without feeling shame for a country that traded in human flesh and actually believed it was the right thing to do, some defending it to their deaths, as part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Although there have been many books written about this time, and many books written that describe the lives of slaves, this book, with its in-depth descriptions of the experiences based on the lives of real people, as they are sold, used, and abused, puts a different face on the picture of the horrors faced by these stolen human beings, and it provides an even more realistic, tragic and barbaric explanation of how people were treated and thought of as property, “no different than a piece of furniture” which was to be sold. My heart was heavy as I listened to the narrative in an excellent audio presentation, with voices that sounded authentic as each character came to life.
Pheby Delores Brown, born in 1832, was like so many mulatto slaves, the product of the coupling of the master of the plantation and her mother, Ruth. Often, the wife of the owner was jealous, and perhaps rightfully angry, although her anger was misdirected at the slave, since they had no choice about their lives or decisions. Masters took whom they pleased for their pleasure and often developed alternate lives with them, to the consternation of their spouses.
On this plantation, the two slaves, Pheby Delores Brown and Essex Henry, fell in love. However, the handsome Essex, was also used by the mistress for her own pleasure, when the master of the plantation was away. When the mistress became pregnant, with the baby that was surely a result of her coupling with Essex, Pheby encouraged him to run, for surely he would be punished. The likelihood of his escape was slim, but there was little choice. Pheby would not leave with him because of her ailing mother. Ruth had suffered injuries in an accident which also injured the master. The mistress refused to call in a physician, and Ruth succumbed to her injuries. On the day of her funeral, the mistress, in the absence of the master, accused Pheby of aiding Essex to escape. She sent the 17-year-old to a prison known for its barbarism where she hoped Pheby would become a woman used by the men for pleasure. The ensuing story about Phebys life and ultimately the life of Essex, is the crux of the novel. The unfairness of her mistress and the lack of concern for the well being of her slaves, exhibited by the extreme lack of feeling and cruelty she exhibited as she dispensed punishments for real or imagined infractions is clearly elucidated in this book.
The slave auctions and the mistreatment and torturous abuse is described in a fashion that never touched me so closely before. It felt as if the real slave was telling her story and describing her anguish, helplessness and hopelessness. Only lucky slaves (if that term is even appropriate), were allowed to remain with their family units. They had kind masters, although it was rare to have both a kind master and a kind mistress because of the behavior of the masters with other women.
As the author tells the story of Pheby Delores Brown, made up out of whole cloth, we learn that she is based on the real life character, Mary Lumpkin. Pheby’s master, the “Jailer” is fashioned after Mary’s husband Robert, who operated the jail with inhumane cruelty and the use of the most violent, retributive tactics for disobedience, even of the slightest kind. The pain and abuse of the bodies of these poor slaves is hard to read about, but I don’t think there will be a reader who will put the book down in disgust or frustration. Rather, the book demands to be read, almost in one sitting. The reader can’t but hope for a positive outcome of some kind, and fortunately, in this case, coupled with the disappointments, secrets, crude behavior and betrayals, there is a light at the end of its tunnel. How many times was there only darkness, however, before the Civil War ended slavery once and for all?
I had never actually read about mulatto women, beautiful and educated, who had been chosen to be mistresses of some white men of power. I had never realized that their children would be educated in fine schools and would have been able to pass for white. I had never heard of Lumpkin’s Jail and did not know of the slave burial ground in Richmond, VA. I had never heard of the notorious slave, Anthony Burns or of the Mulatto wives who helped the slaves. I had never heard of the “Friends” organization, and did not realize they were Quakers. I had never heard of “the devil’s half acre” or of the “bully trader” before, so the book was both enlightening and informative, though very disturbing. The reader will learn that the historic, Black, Virginia Union University, was actually once a seminary on the property of Mary Lumpkin. When her master and then husband, left her the jail property, she leased it to a preacher.
The names of real slave traders and their mulatto wives is also a part of this book which lends to its authenticity and enables the reader to do further research into the times, the behavior and the ultimate freedom won after the War Between the States. The greater tragedy, of course, is that we are still in the throes of confusion when it comes to race relations in America.

 
  "The Horrors of Slavery" by lpollinger (see profile) 02/02/21

Pheby is 16 years old and a slave, her mother is a slave and her father the master of the plantation where they live. She has been promised her freedom when she turns 18. Pheby’s mistress, Delphina, is very jealous of the way her husband favors Pheby. The mistress is using the slave, Essex Henry, that Pheby loves for her own pleasure and when she becomes pregnant and delivers a black child, Pheby convinces Essex to run away. While her husband is away Delphina accuses Pheby of helping Essex to escape and sends her to the most brutal prison in the south.
There Pheby becomes the Yellow Wife of the Jailer and she does everything and anything she must in order to just survive.
This is an epic and horrifying story of slavery. The author writes beautifully so that you actually feel you are there. I feel this is a must read book for everyone and a fantastic choice for a bookclub.

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