THE PLOT: ‘Yellow Wife’ by Sadeqa Johnson is a historical novel set in 1850’s Virginia. Pheby is a light-skinned girl who has led a sheltered life on the plantation. Protected by her mother, a medicine woman, Pheby has been promised her freedom on her 18th birthday. But when she unexpectedly finds herself thrust into Richmond jail, Pheby has is left with no choice while she waits for the master to come free her. The jailor has noticed her beauty and to survive she must become his yellow wife.
RATING: This was a stunning novel that deserves every single star. I wept, oh how I wept, for Pheby, her mother and the terrible atrocities of slavery. Everything about this book is perfect. The characters are realistic, tender and heartbreaking. The plot is entertaining, fast-paced and has lots of twists. The setting, atmosphere, and tone is created by an accomplished writing style. Loosely based on true characters and events, this is a book that is both entertaining and educational. Simply put, I loved this book and I urge you all to read it.
GOOD BITS: This book is masterful. Let’s start with the plot. There were lots of developments and escalations which, coupled with short chapters, made it very pacy and moreish. The writing was descriptive and rich, but not too bogged down in detail that the story got lost. And the characters! As a mixed-race woman, Pheby is a complex character and the author skillfully imagines what life must have been like for her. Pheby identifies and is treated as Black, but her position relative to other slaves creates so much tension as she has to learn to check her privilege.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I don’t really have any criticisms. It would have been interesting for Pheby to explicitly address her own colourism and internalized racism due to being light-skinned. However, I may have that opinion because I’m viewing this book with a modern lens. Honestly, I think Pheby’s character arc in relation to colourism is implied so it’s only a minor comment.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Book of the Night Women’ by Marlon James, ‘The Prophets’ by Robert Jones Jr, ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen and ‘How We Disappeared’ by Jing Jing Lee. It’s more than a book for those interested in the history of slavery. It’s a book about racism and speaks to the subjugation of women around the world. Any fan of historical fiction will learn from and love this story.
I couldn’t add this to my bookshop.org list or find it in Waterstones, so I don’t think it has a UK publisher yet (honestly, they need to get on this and buy those rights!). However, you can find it on Amazon UK.