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Yellow Wife    by Sadeqa Johnson order for
Yellow Wife
by Sadeqa Johnson
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though born on a Charles City, Virginia plantation, Pheby Delores Brown enjoys a happy childhood as the daughter of the Master and his slave mistress, who is also a talented medicine woman. The Master's sister taught Pheby to play the piano and (secretly since it was forbidden to a slave) to read. Pheby loved her dearly but sadly, she died and the Master married a bitter woman. The new Missus treats her badly.

As Yellow Wife opens, Pheby expects to be freed on her approaching eighteenth birthday and sent to a school in Massachusetts, as the Master has promised her mother. She has grown to love young fellow slave Essex Henry and they make plans to be together. Then everything suddenly changes. Essex is forced to flee north. Pheby's mother dies and an accident kills the Master, leaving Missus free to do as she pleases.

Missus sells Pheby, who ends up in the horrific Lapier slave jail in Richmond, Virginia, Devil's Half Acre. In charge of it all is the violent and unpredictable Jailer, Master Jacob. When Pheby is sold at auction (and is almost whipped for refusing to disrobe), he buys her and soon seems obsessed by her, despite her pregnancy with Essex's son Monroe. Pheby becomes his Yellow Wife and bears his daughters. In return, he promises never to sell Monroe away from her.

Then Henry Essex is recaptured, brought to the jail, viciously whipped and left near death. I was glued to the pages, wondering how this could possibly end well. Yellow Wife is all about compromises made for survival and to protect vulnerable children, hoping for a better life for them. Enjoy this engrossing read and don't miss the Author's Note at the end, addressing the fact behind the fiction.

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